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MoCo Big Box Bill Held Up On Details

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If the bill is passed, big box stores like Target would have to work with at least three "recognized civic organizations."
Jay Reed: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jreed/444275300/
If the bill is passed, big box stores like Target would have to work with at least three "recognized civic organizations."

A bill that would require large retails stories to help support the Montgomery County communities in which they operate is running into opposition from at least one county council member.

The so-called community benefits agreement would require retail stores more than 75,000 square feet in size to engage in hiring, training and environmental initiatives favoring Montgomery County residents through signed agreements with three or more "recognized civic organizations." But Council member George Leventhal is raising questions about how the bill will work, and also questioning its impact on business in the county.

County council members are trying to hammer out the details on bill 33-11 (pdf), which on the surface would seem to benefit much of the county. Leventhal says that could be the case, if only the language weren't so vague. Leventhal is concerned over what 'recognized' may mean.

"Some community organization will believe they were left out of negotiations, and no one organization truly speaks on behalf of the community, and so determining who those community organizations should be, or whether the retailer is supposed to select them," he says. "I don't think that's what the sponsors of the bill intended.

"Nobody has satisfactorily answered how this bill will work," he continues. Leventhal also argues that it may be redundant to laws already in place. "We already require impact fees, we require traffic tests, we require review of site plan by the board which require community input," he says. "So it's not as if we're in an environment where there's no opportunity for community input."

Leventhal adds the bill's 'one size fits all approach' could chase away some stores, while failing to address the complaints by constituents about the business practices of one particular store: Wal-Mart. He points to the company's recent announcement that it will withdraw health insurance from some future part-time employees as one problem people have with the idea of big box stores.

"This is really being triggered by Wal-Mart's efforts to open two new stores in Montgomery County," Leventhal says. A call to Walmart regarding the health insurance change was not returned.

The council committee plans to hold another work session on the community benefits bill later today.

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