Walmart backs out of deal with Chaney
County needs new suitors for land in Waldorf Crossing area
Development in Charles County is becoming more scrutinized as days go by, and Walmart’s decision to cease contract negotiations with Chaney Enterprises to build a Walmart Supercenter at Mattawoman Drive and U.S. 301 just added to the conversation.
The supercenter would have been in the Waldorf Station area, which is advertised as a transit oriented development zone in the county’s zoning code.
Betsy Harden, a spokeswoman for Walmart, said the company needed an extension of the contract
to purchase property in the Waldorf Crossing development but “unfortunately,” she said, the two sides “were not able to reach an agreement.”
“We value our relationship with Charles County, and we appreciate those who supported our efforts,” Harden said. “We remain committed to serving the many Charles County residents who shop in our stores and benefit from access to quality products at affordable prices.”
The two sides were unable to reach an agreement just ahead of an upcoming Charles County Board of Appeals public hearing with Chaney Enterprises regarding the Waldorf Station site the superstore would have been located in.
As of Monday afternoon the board of appeals hearing regarding the site has been canceled.
Walmart pulling out represents the end of a twoyear time period where Walmart has been trying to move a supercenter into Chaney’s approved Waldorf Station location.
The store was planned to be a 184,015-squarefoot building with just under 8,500 square feet of open-air garden space. The site required a special exception permit because of its size with more than 100,000 square feet of retail space.
Citizens took issue with the building’s size, the location and the issue of the other Walmart building currently in the area. The plan, according to Walmart officials, was to sell the Walmart already in place to a buyer and have them use the building, but some citizens had concerns about what could reasonably be done with a building that size.
With Walmart pulling out of the plan, Chaney Enterprises, which owns the land the store would have been developed on, may look elsewhere for another buyer willing to develop on the property.
Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said Walmart made a “business decision” to cease negotiations and move on. But this does not come as a surprise, he said, with the company also pulling out of two previous developments just a few months ago with planned stores in the District of Columbia.
“That raised a red flag here from a business standpoint,” Robinson said.
Debra Jones, the chief of business development in the county’s economic development department, said, at this point, the way the county sees things it is “not a cause for alarm” with respect to the Waldorf Station development project.
Large commercial projects, such as the one of this scale, normally go through several iterations, Jones said, in terms of concept and designs. The two sides could come back and have a different design in mind, she said.
“The fact that that is not going forward is not necessarily cause for alarm and what the specific implications are will become more certain as time goes on,” Jones said.
As discussions of the project moved forward, Robinson said, people in the community began to take issue with it and “it took on a whole other angle,” he said.
There are going to be people who are happy about the decision, Robinson said, but the project itself and Walmart’s decision to pull out of the deal likely have little to do with public comment.
With the area still designated as transit-oriented development, Robinson said, this gives the county’s economic development department an opportunity to find a potential suitor more fitting for that style of development.
Chaney Enterprises needs to be given time to reassess its approach in regards to finding a new, proper suitor for the site, Jones said, that fits with the county’s transit oriented development zone.
The county will move forward and be in contact with Chaney to discuss ways they could potentially help find any good fits, she said, but it will ultimately be up to Chaney who it chooses.
“It’s ultimately a private project,” Jones said.
Jim Long, president of the Mattawoman Watershed Society, said the society is glad to see the county moving on from what would have been a project that “limited the county’s options” in an area close to a Mattawoman Resource Protection zone.
There are options for better alignment near Western Parkway, he said, and the county needs to look at them. Placing a superstore more than 100,000-square-feet in the area would not have been sound, he said, and would push Western Parkway into a Mattawoman Resource Protection zone.
“That was forcing Western Parkway very near to Mattawoman Creek and based on previous proposals for the path of Western Parkway, there’s a less damaging alternative path,” Long said.
Some residents are against the Walmart brand, but Long said that was never the issue with the Mattawoman Watershed Society. “Regardless of what brand,” Long said, a superstore would have been expensive to maintain and build and potentially could have done damage to the environment.
Transit oriented development is welcomed by the county, Long said, but the idea of having a supercenter in the middle of an area where it does not fit and people cannot walk to was never a good idea.
“It draws traffic to the area. [Transit oriented development] is supposed to help alleviate traffic not draw traffic. It really, to be honest, was just an embarrassment,” Long said.