Possible Walmart move worries some in rural Bowie -- Gazette.Net


The Walmart department store in Bowie is considering shutting down its current site and opening a larger store in the city — but some residents worry Prince George’s County’s first “super center” would hurt the rural character of the proposed relocation area.

“I love Walmart ... but it seems we have too much building,” said Anna Drinnon, 62, a 26-year resident of Mill Branch Road, the road where the larger store would be located. “A couple of stores is fine, but we got too much.”

The proposed 186,000-square-foot store would replace the 117,000-square-foot Walmart located on Crain Highway, and would be built on a nearby 74-acre plot of land, said Joe Meinert, director of Bowie’s planning department. There are two other Walmarts in the county, according to store officials, but this would be the county’s first super center.

All employees at the Walmart would transfer to the new store, which would then hire 80 additional workers and include a groceries section, said Walmart spokesperson Amanda Henneberg.

“When we relocate and expand to include super centers, it means we’re adding grocery. Grocery is something our customers have come to expect,” Henneberg said, adding that the Bowie store opened in 1993 and lacks many features offered in newer stores.

The property owner of the proposed relocation site, William Chesley of Crofton-based W.F. Chesley Real Estate, said he plans to also build additional retail, office space and a hotel on the site, although he doesn’t know when those plans will be approved or when building will start.

“The preliminary plans are already approved. The next step is to get detailed site plans approved, which we’re working on now,” Chesley said.

John Henry King, the city’s economic development director, said Walmart could be the catalyst for the proposed development on Mill Branch Road.

“Rarely do you see retail built speculatively. You need committed tenants before construction,” King said. “Walmart is the first tenant to open up the doors for the rest of the property to be developed.”

Meinert said he expects some resistance from the community, as the city has a long, somewhat contentious history regarding development of rural areas.

For decades, Prince George’s County designated all land east of U.S. 301 as “rural,” and the city liked it that way, Meinert said. But about 20 years ago, development began creeping south and more “rural” land was labeled “developing” to accommodate expanding suburban life.

Despite opposition from the city, the county approved the Mill Branch lot for commercial use in 2006.

Meinert said the city welcomes the new store, but hopes development in the area will stop there.

“We’re hoping [development] won’t go any further than where it is ... to protect the character of the county,” he said.

From the city’s economic standpoint, the super center means more income, officials said.

Some Bowie residents said they would welcome a larger store.

“This [Walmart] doesn’t really seem like it has as much as others I’ve seen,” said Karri Taylor, 25, of Bowie.

George Galloway, property manager of Collington Plaza, a shopping center located next to Walmart, is not thrilled about the potential relocation.

“Who is coming to take that place? We already have Target, Kohl’s ... every grocery store. I’m not sure who’s going to fill that Walmart space,” Galloway said, adding that Bowie’s market is already saturated with retail.

The County Council must ultimately approve the Walmart, which could take up to a year as developers must meet various building criteria, but since the land is within city limits, the city is able to hold public hearings on the development and send its opinion to the county, Meinert said. The city will hold a public meeting Sept. 19 to introduce the plan to residents, allowing attendees to ask developers questions. The city will also schedule two subsequent public hearings, but dates have not yet been determined, Meinert said.