Monday, October 03, 2011
Walmart May Open in Aspen Hill
Close to Planned Freeway Interchange
Well, it wasn't enough that our area rose to the #1 rank of Worst Traffic Congestion in the World last week, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. This embarrassing "accomplishment" simply proved again the urgent need to finish our region's woefully-incomplete highway and transit systems, including new Potomac River crossings and - yes - the long-delayed Rockville Freeway connecting I-270 with the Intercounty Connector (MD 200).
And two weeks ago, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett confirmed the need for the Rockville Freeway, while lamenting that no funding for the 6 lane highway would be available.
Now a third burst of momentum promises to boost demand for the Freeway: Venerable retailer Walmart has announced plans to open a new store on the old Vitro/BAE Systems site on Connecticut Avenue in Aspen Hill.
This presents a clear case of mutual interest: Walmart will presumably add to vehicle traffic in the area, requiring a boost in highway capacity. And wouldn't Walmart be pleased to have a freeway exit right near its new store, which currently has no interstate/freeway access whatsoever?
So here is a great opportunity for Walmart to get behind building the Rockville Freeway, which would bring many more customers to their store, while keeping them off all of the local Aspen Hill roads.
Unfortunately, some on the County Council are rumored to be devising roadblocks to Walmart bringing its store, jobs and low prices to the Aspen Hill area (which lost hundreds of jobs in the Vitro/BAE closure, by the way).
First they will try to hold up the zoning change, even as they ram through similar changes for developers in the county every week.
Second, they will try to force Walmart to sign a Community Agreement binding them to various costly terms.
It's important to understand that Walmart opening on this site does not threaten small businesses in the area. It is hypocritical of politicians to claim this, because the same people support redevelopment of perfectly fine shopping centers and apartment buildings that result in the destruction of small businesses and ousting of low-income tenants. They are doing just that in White Flint, downtown Silver Spring, Wheaton, and soon in Long Branch and Takoma/Langley Crossroads. So they shouldn't suddenly claim to be the defenders of the little guy now, when this Walmart will have no detrimental impact to small business or affordable housing.
Planning Director Rollin Stanley and several on the council have heavily criticized Walgreen's excellent drug store in the Langley sector. Let's hope they recognize the benefit of Walgreen's and Walmart to the community, and the opportunity to perhaps get Walmart on board to build the Rockville Freeway that would benefit their profits, and quality of life in Montgomery County.