- Image courtesy Walmart
Yvonne Williams sits on the Board of Trustees for Bible Way Church and lives in an apartment building next door to the proposed New Jersey Avenue Walmart. She says, "we've been praying for food in this neighborhood for 40 years."
John Lee, owner of Corner Market at 4th and East Capitol streets NE, says he's "scared right now with Walmart coming in," and worries the mega-retailer could drive him out of the business where he's invested everything he's had.
And then there's Larry Greenhill, Jr., a frustrated out-of-work union electrician "watching all of these projects go up" and wanting to ensure that those hired to build the Walmart and work inside of it are paid a livable wage.
There's plenty to say about the Walmart going up at 801 New Jersey Ave. NW, but that doesn't mean there's any leverage to speak of in forcing the company to meet community demands.
The Ward 6 Walmart (much like the three others proposed) is already zoned for the proposed use. So despite Walmart being open to discussing community benefit packages, there is little the city can do to force them to sign one. And as D.C. Councilmember Michael Brown (I-At-large) reminded the audience at a Ward 6 community meeting Tuesday night, Walmart has so far refused to sign a single one.
No Walmart representatives were at the Ward 6 Walmart meeting, but developers the Bennett Group spoke in defense of the plan, a multimillion dollar project with 80,000 square feet dedicated to Walmart and 10,000 square feet of first floor retail set aside for outside, small businesses; silver LEED rating; the Walmart will sell groceries, clothing, and have a pharmacy; and 315 apartments atop the glass-enclosed store, some of which will be workforce housing. A lease is expected to be signed within months.
D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells (D- Ward 6) called it one of the best designed Walmarts, a model that he wished could be replicated in the other three proposed stores.
"This is a mixed-use development, providing jobs and workforce housing," Wells said. "If this were an office building of the same size, we wouldn't be here tonight... I believe one of the only reasons we're here is because it's a Walmart."
The design of the New Jersey Avenue store is unique when compared to the other three proposals. And even though there isn't much that can be done right now to force Walmart to sign any kind of agreement to hire locally or adhere to any other standards, the developer does have an agreement with the city. Decades ago, the Bennett Group had to request a zoning variance for the site, and as part of the deal they formed the Joshua Group, a coalition of local community groups and nonprofits. Once something was developed on the site, the developers had to start an educational foundation through the group and pump $2 million into it, and then hand over 15 percent of the profits from the deal to the Joshua Group, which includes the Perry Center, a job-placement nonprofit.
"A few years ago, we placed about 25 people a month into jobs. Last year, it was seven," Perry Center executive director Paul McElligott told the crowd. "Walmart plans to bring 300 retail jobs to this community alone... With all things considered, this project is a benefit to the District and its residents."
Those who disagree have quite a battle ahead.