Recently, I asked Council Member, and Chair of the Council’s Economic Development Committee, Harry Thomas Jr. about the Ward 5 Wal-Mart. Although I feel his answers were written by staff instead of by his own hand, here they are:
1. According to Wal-Mart, they are planning to develop four stores. One of those stores on New York Ave. How will this impact the redevelopment of RIA when more and more big box stores springing up away from the Avenue will draw customers and shoppers away from RIA? Some potential small business owners that I spoke with about this stated that they would not consider RIA if the Wal-Mart, along with the Target/Costco, are down the street. What is your response?
Retail data indicates that the District has only 8.6 square feet of retail per capita compared to 26.4 square feet in the metro area, and 23.3 square feet nationally. It is estimated that DC residents spend up to $1 billion annually shopping in the suburbs—that is a significant amount of retail leakage. Clearly, a significant amount of up demand for retail shopping exists in the District.
I also view the redevelopment of New York Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue as complementing, not cannibalizing, each other. The two corridors are very different from each other, and development projects should reflect that. Rhode Island Avenue should have its own “main street” identify and feel, with neighborhood serving retail. And while there may be some small business owners who will shy away from Rhode Island Avenue if large national chain tenants are seeking to locate on New York and South Dakota Avenues, I am confident there are other retailers who will Rhode Island Avenue and its “main street” identify as an ideal location.
2. How will you guarantee that traffic does not spill off into the neighborhoods and side streets when a large scale retail complex is put on New York Ave?
Parking for the Ward 5 Walmart project will be self-contained, and the project is located on a major corridor. I plan to work with the development team and DDOT officials to ensure that a sound traffic plan for the project is developed and implemented.
3. What is Wal-Mart proposing to pay for in the way of roadway improvements to alleviate traffic on NY Ave? Will they help construct the tunnel under Bladensburg, which is in the 2006 Comp Plan?
The parcel at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road is currently an eye-sore and filled with non-productive uses that bring no benefit to the surrounding community. We have been coordinating with the local ANCs, civic leaders, and neighbors to bring quality retail to this location.
The site plan is still under development. This is a matter of right development that involves no District funding. The project must apply to DDOT for any curb cut, at which time DDOT will be review, assess, and issue the necessary public space requirements with which the project must comply. The project will also have to undergo a large tract review with the Office of Planning, which is required for commercial and mixed-use commercial development projects of fifty thousand square feet or more. The review includes, among other things, submission of a general circulation plan, including the location of vehicular and pedestrian access ways, other public space and the location and number of all off-street parking and loading spaces, and loading berths and service delivery spaces.
The District’s 2006 Comp Plan does not call for a tunnel under New York Avenue. Rather, the Comp Plan cites a 2005 DDOT study that included a tunnel among its recommendations. At this time, and given the huge costs involved in excavating such a tunnel and the city’s lean budget, the District is not contemplating building a tunnel under New York Avenue. Therefore, assessing District businesses to help pay for a tunnel is not on the table now nor will be in the foreseeable future.
4. How does creating more auto-centric retail locations like the Wal-Mart/Lowe’s shopping center conform to the 2006 Comp Plan’s environmental goals of reducing our carbon footprint by 30%?
The Walmart project doesn’t preclude the District from achieving its goal of reducing the carbon footprint by 30 percent. In addition to the large number of transit-oriented developments underway or planned for the District, the city’s promotion of alternative forms of mass transit like street cars and programs like bike sharing and flex cars will help reduce our carbon footprint. The Walmart project may also help reduce the carbon footprint because Ward 5 residents will be able to shop nearer their homes and not have to drive to other parts of the city or suburbs I also think advent of hybrid and electric cars will also help the District achieve its goals of reducing the carbon footprint.
[RIA Insider editorial note: the Wal-Mart in Ward 5 will need a larger market area than abutting communities to succeed, so that means more cars will drive to the store from greater distances]
5. Back in November 2010, you stated that Wal-Mart conducted a poll at your request and came back with overwhelming support for their store. Wouldn’t you consider this a “fox watching the hen house” kind of poll? Why were you so easy to accept these results?
Some results are irrefutable. Currently, District residents spend $47 million annually at Walmarts located outside the District, and 600 District residents commute to work at Walmarts in suburban locations. We need to spend those retail dollars in the District, and bring those jobs home. Furthermore, the survey of residents was conducted by Lester & Associates, a reputable, Washington DC-based market research firm. This was not a “push pull” survey.
In addition to these questions, I have asked Council member Thomas to address the article in the Greater Greater Washington that “Thomas’ development record in Ward 5 is spotty, at best.” Check back soon for his response.