BOWIE – “We don’t want a Walmart!” Todd Sharpe yelled into a megaphone while standing in the middle of Glenn Dale Road. “We don’t need a Walmart!”
Sharpe, a Bowie resident, joined more than 50 other residents gathered along Glenn Dale Road and Annapolis Road to protest approval of plans for a Walmart store in the Duvall Village Shopping Center.
The Prince George’s County Planning Board approved Wal-Mart’s plan earlier this year, which includes 77,916 square feet of space and 513 parking spaces. The District Council elected to review the Planning Board’s decision, but decided to wait until the fall before making a decision while appeals from Wal-Mart and the community play out in court.
Jennifer Dwyer, 27, who filed the community’s appeal and has circulated a petition with more than 400 signatures, said she lives 150 feet behind the vacant property. Dwyer organized the community protest and has led the charge against Wal-Mart because she does not want what she said will be a “bad neighbor.”
“I just feel it’s a really bad fit for my neighborhood,” Dwyer said. “It’s just too close. And on top of that, Walmarts are a particularly horrid retailer. They are crime magnets even compared to other big-box stores. An average Walmart sees over 200 incidents a year. This is a well-known phenomenon.”
Residents are concerned not only about crime, Dwyer said, but also about increased traffic and a possible devaluation of their properties.
“For me, there is nothing blocking [the store] from my property, so when shopping carts come rolling down the hill and garbage there is nothing to stop it,” Dwyer said. “If I decide to put my home on the market, people are going to see that.”
Amanda Henneberg, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart, said the safety is a top priority for the company.
“A biased, flawed and inaccurate union-sponsored study from 10 years ago doesn’t change the facts,” Henneberg said. “We proactively work with communities and local law enforcement to put the right safety measures in place so that our customers can continue to have a safe and enjoyable shopping experience at Walmart.”
Dwyer said the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400 is assisting her in her fight. The union previously fought the construction of Walmart stores in Washington, D.C., and other locations. Dwyer said she approached the union after reading about its battles on the internet.
Karina Rosado, a community growth strategies representative for the union, said Dwyer approached her in December.
“We’re only helping by helping them strategize basically,” Rosado said. “But the big push is coming from the community. These are folks coming together, not labor coming together.”
Rosado and Dwyer both said the community’s plight should not be characterized as a union-versus-Wal-Mart fight.
“Obviously the community and labor have a common issue with this big box store,” Rosado said. “So why not work together to make improvements in the community?”
Henneberg also said Walmart stores do not hurt property values. According to a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, an analysis of 600,000 homes purchased between 2001 and 2006 showed the value of homes located within a half mile of a Walmart store rose two to three percent more than homes not near a Walmart.
The property used to house a Super Fresh grocery store before it went out of business. Dwyer said the property has remained vacant since she moved to Bowie, but it does not bother her. If a retailer is going to take over the property, she said she would prefer it to be a Whole Foods or a Trader Joes so the store would offer a different kind of product for residents and not compete with the surrounding grocery stores. Additionally, she said, a Whole Foods or Trader Joes would not have as large of a traffic impact as a Walmart.
Angelina Woods, a resident of the Glensford condominiums, said she agrees with Dwyer’s views and is troubled by Wal-Mart’s reputation. When she moved in last year, Woods said she had no idea Wal-Mart had plans to come to Bowie.
“I was devastated,” Woods said. “I am recently retired and I’m thinking about my property value. I was floored. I don’t think with the characteristics of this neighborhood that Wal-Mart fits in here. The surrounding area is rural residential and some is even designated historical.”
Linda Banks, a resident of Legend Glens in Bowie, said the county’s pending approval of Wal-Mart’s plans would be devastating for the community.
“The county executive says he is all for economic development,” Banks said. “We want to support economic development that is appropriate for our community, not [one] that destroys the equity in our homes.”
Dwyer said Wal-Mart has met with the community a couple of times to hear residents’ concerns. However, she said Wal-Mart has been dismissive and unwilling to consider suggestions from residents, such as not operating 24 hours or building a retaining wall.
“They are unwilling to compromise and that’s fine,” Dwyer said. “We will protest, so no Walmart. If this is going to be how you are going to treat us…nobody wants a bad neighbor.”
Henneberg said there is no need for a retaining wall because the building and shopping center have existed for more than 20 years without needing one. She also noted Wal-Mart has been involved with community giving in Maryland, donating more than $6.8 million.
However, Dwyer said donations do not help her — or her neighbors. When she asked a Wal-Mart representative to tell her a specific way in which the store will benefit residents, Dwyer said the representative told her it would provide community shopping.
The residents said if the District Council approves of Wal-Mart’s plans, it will send a message to them their opinions do not matter.
District Council members could not comment on this story while plans are still under approval.
“They are not listening to us,” Woods said. “You are telling us we don’t have your ear and we do not have the power to sway you. That our vote doesn’t count.”
“We deserve better,” Sharpe continued to shout through his megaphone. “This is an upscale residential neighborhood. We are not going to stand for it. No Walmart now, not ever.”