The testimony of William Shrader, a Pennsylvania-based employee of Giant parent Ahold USA, went further. Too far, in the opinion of many dismayed residents, who overwhelmingly oppose the plan. While some employees of the Westbard Giant store have expressed solidarity with community opposition to the Montgomery County Planning Board's high-density plan - the staging of which could potentially put them out of work for a couple of years, assuming Equity One even decides to re-up with Giant rather than a competing chain - Shrader spoke positively of the plan in broad terms, and sang the praises of the urban mixed-use model that is out of character with suburban Westbard.
Not a good way to endear yourself to the community that buys your groceries.
The higher-ups at Giant don't think so, either, and have acted quickly to distance themselves from Shrader's apparent "gone rogue" testimony.
"We regret that statements were made by our Real Estate representative that went beyond the scope of our supermarket project," said a statement released by Giant late yesterday. "We value our relationship with the community, appreciate the feedback and will continue to work with the developer and community to address concerns regarding the proposed project." Ira Kress, SVP of Store Operations for Giant Landover said the statement was authorized by Giant Food, LLC President Gordon Reid.
I commend Giant for taking prompt action on this matter. Speaking only for myself, I'd prefer to have Giant come back in "The New Westwood" shopping center, as Equity One terms it. Unless Equity One could get the urban Wegman's design (which at about 70,000 SF is not grossly larger than Equity One's proposed 60,000 SF grocery space), Giant certainly has the best selection across all departments of the area chains. The Westbard Giant is the best Giant in Bethesda, if not the whole chain.
The statement also reveals that Giant is apparently already in talks with Equity One regarding opening a future store at Westbard, after the current one is demolished. "The Real Estate arm of our parent, Ahold USA, has been working with the property owner to secure a new lease that will allows us to continue to serve Westbard. As with all projects where Giant is a tenant, our Real Estate team works closely with the developer to ensure that the new project will meet the needs and expectations of our customers."
It also notes the venerable store's 56-year role in the "Westbard" community. "We understand the concerns that have been raised by the community over the development of the Westbard property where our Giant Food store is located. For nearly 60 years Giant has served the Westbard community, not only providing its grocery needs but participating as an active member in all facets of community life."
Regarding the final point raised in the statement, that "our store lease is about to expire": Contrary to some of the information floating around out there, Giant's lease didn't originally expire in 2019. Years ago, it was said that Giant had a 99-year lease for its Westbard store. While nothing was ever said publicly, it seems Ahold must have renegotiated the lease while Capital Properties owned the shopping center. Giant opened in 1959, and, well, 2019 isn't 2058.
Why a 99-year lease? That's common in "ground rent" situations, an antiquated real estate mechanism that was applied by original Westbard developer Dr. Lazlo Tauber across all of his parcels there.