OXON HILL — Parents whose students attend John Hanson Montessori School are celebrating a decisive—but potentially short-lived—victory against the construction of a Super Walmart fewer than 50 feet from the school’s front door.
A decision by the Prince George’s County Zoning Hearing Examiner this week denied a request from a development company for a special exemption and variance request that, if approved, would give the company the ability to construct the retail store. Zoning Hearing Examiner Maurene Epps McNeil cited the potential negative effects of the construction in her decision.
“I believe the instant request will adversely impact the health, safety and welfare of residents or workers in the area, and would be detrimental to the use of adjacent properties, in a manner unique to the site,” McNeil wrote. “Therefore, the request must be denied.”
Due to legislation the Prince George’s County Council passed in 2012, Wal-Mart had to request special permission for the store because it exceeded 85,000 sq. feet and because the 15.44 acre site did not directly connect to an existing arterial roadway.
McNeil’s decision, which cited concerns about the safety of students who walk to school and increased noise levels on school property, was met with delight from parents and residents who had been fighting for years about the site.
“We have said all along that this project is not a suitable use of the property,” said Nicole Nelson, a parent opposing the Super Walmart. “The decision confirms our concerns.”
Wal-Mart is reviewing the decision by the zoning examiner to determine its next step, said Amanda Henneberg, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart.
The Super Walmart’s plan calls for the construction on 100,310 sq. feet in the Potomac Business Park to the west of John Hanson. The proposed location, across the street from the Forest Heights Baptist Church and is located between a Clarion Inn to its west, John Hanson to its east and Oxon Hill High School to its south.
Parents from the Parent-Teacher-Student-Association at John Hanson, along with parents of children attending Oxon Hill High school, students and local residents have opposed the construction of the Wal-Mart since it the developer proposed the project in 2011 because of concerns about safety and increased traffic in the area.
McNeil acknowledged the concerns in her decision.
“There was a belief that the 500 plus students that walk to the high school could be subjected to harm by walking adjacent to the three parking areas for the store since they will have to dodge the cars turning in,” Epps wrote.
Henneberg said Wal-Mart changed its original plans to appeal to community concerns and said the proposed plan is safe.
“The distance from the store to the school is far enough that the store’s traffic should not impede or create any safety issues at Oxon Hill High School,” she said.
Wal-Mart proposed a 50-foot landscape buffer between John Hanson Montessori School and the store as a direct response to the community’s concerns.
“The safety and security of our customer in the area is a top priority for us,” Henneberg said.
Not everyone opposed the construction. Some residents appeared before the Zoning Board Hearing Examiner to express their support of the Super Walmart, suggesting the employment opportunities, sales positions and possible increases in tax revenue could benefit the area tremendously, McNeil said in her decision.
Henneberg confirmed many residents have voiced their support of the project.
“We appreciate the support we’ve received from residents that would benefit from the jobs and affordable shopping options our store would bring to the community,” Henneberg said.
The fight about the Super Walmart will continue when the decision is presented before the County Council later this year, in accordance with Prince George’s County’s zoning procedures.
“We cannot ignore that our children are right there,” said Derrick Lindsey, a PTSA delegate from John Hanson, where his child attends school. “I want to see the PTSA and John Hanson sit down and talk to the Peterson Group, some Wal-Mart folk, and come out with some sort of summary conclusion,” Lindsey said.