MONTGOMERY COUNTY: Should Big Boxes agree to provide community benefits?


by Chelsea Boone

Members of the Montgomery County Council introduced a community benefits agreement bill on Oct. 11 that would bring big box stores such as Target, Wal-Mart and Home Depot to Montgomery County.

The bill was introduced by council president Valerie Ervin and councilmembers Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer and it would “require certain retail businesses to enter into, or negotiate in good faith with certain organizations for, community benefits agreements,” the bill says.

The idea of the bill is to have these big box stores help the communities that they are located by hiring nearby residents and having training programs for county residents, assisting community organizations and programs and providing affordable and workforce housing, along with anything else relevant to the store or the nearby community, the bill says.

The bill has been met with opposition from members of the community at the Nov. 2 county council meeting and from members of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce.

At the Nov. 2 meeting a community member asked how the council could protect small businesses when the bill would be helping big businesses.

The Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce describe the bill as redundant called it “a bill that would impose regulations which would threaten to hinder business development in Montgomery County and overlap with current regulations already in place through the federal, state, and local governments,” in a letter calling the community to speak out an oppose the bill.

“At worst, this legislation is another example of Montgomery County’s trend towards business unfriendliness, putting us at an even further comparative disadvantage to our neighbors in Washington, D.C. and Virginia,” the letter said.

Councilman George Leventhal said at the Nov. 3 meeting that he wants to protect the small business structure of Montgomery County and referred to the bill as “shockingly impractical.”

The bill creates a structure that does not exist anywhere else, Leventhal said.

“In the county we want a balance of small business and large business,” councilman Phil Andrews said at the county council meeting.

Under the bill the large retail stores will have to work with a “recognized civic organization” that is “composed of residents and of businesses located within 5 miles of a large retail store or other organizations that represent those residents or businesses,” the bill said, and the civic organization cannot affiliated with the operator or owner of the large retail store.

Rice, a co-sponsor of the bill, serves the only district in Montgomery County with a Wal-Mart. He said that the dynamic works.

It is a big box store amongst small businesses that do well he said.

The bill is still in the early stages, a councilmember said at the meeting, and not everything has been determined.

The bill does not expire until April 11, 2013 and if it is voted into law it would not take affect until 91 days after the vote.