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MoCo big box bill unconstitutional?: The Montgomery County Attorney thinks a bill to require CBAs from big box stores is unconstitutional. He was appointed by County Executive Leggett, who opposes the bill. (Post)

"Science City" really just JHU profit city?: Former owners of the so-called "Science City" land are suing Johns Hopkins. They say the deed required JHU to build a campus for itself; instead, JHU will just lease to biotech companies for profit. (WAMU)

Safeway could block Skyland Walmart: DC signed a covenant with Safeway when it located its store across the street from a proposed Walmart site. The covenent prevents a competitor from locating in Skyland and selling groceries. (Post)

Georgetown ok with Glover Park streetscape: A Georgetown ANC commissioner wanted to block the Glover Park streetscape plan, which features sidewalks and a median to slow traffic. He feared reducing car speeds would push traffic to side streets. The commission ultimately decided to support the plan. (Georgetown Metropolitan, Patch)

Can RFK parking lots become ball fields?: A new group proposes to replace the northern parking lots of RFK with athletic fields. NCPC has suggested the same thing before, and it got many votes in the Sustainable DC crowdsourcing site. (City Paper)

Preservationists should be "picky": Glen Echo Park is a great example of something worth preserving. But preservationists should carefully pick and choose what to preserve instead of indiscriminately designating everything. (Atlantic Cities)

Congress wants bike-ped shrunk in TIGER: Congress has ordered USDOT to give less money to bike and ped projects in the next TIGER grants. Those only got a tiny slice of previous grants, though many road projects included sidewalks. (Trans. Issues Daily.)

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David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Instead of demanding CBAs for big box stores, local governments should regulate as the Danes do and prohibit any stores larger than 30-some thousand square feet. The giant stores create more problems than they're worth. We need to relocalize our economy and rehumanize our towns.

by Phil LaCombe on Nov 29, 2011 9:36 am • linkreport

I have mixed feelings about Glen Echo. It's preserved, but as what? The result is a mishmash of unrelated activities that requires a constant influx of public funds without much of a purpose, other than simply being. That cannot be preservation on a large scale. Preservation must be about repurposing old structures to new uses.

by Crickey7 on Nov 29, 2011 9:54 am • linkreport

If Big Box stores have negative consequences (low wages, huge parking lots), why not legislate against those things, rather than specifically attacking the big box businesses themselves.

Much of DC's anti-Wal-Mart backlash has been intellectually dishonest, and only seems to have bought us a CBA that panders to the "oldschool" DC causes, without actually accomplishing much of anything. Instead of screaming at big businesses for maintaining low wages, not insuring their workers, or building stores in a manner that severely strains the local infrastructure; why not simply make those things illegal for all businesses?

Doing that is well within the bounds of the law. Specifically targeting individual businesses won't hold up in court -- even though Congress itself seems to have engaged in a bit of this recently, a bill of attainder won't hold up in any court.

by andrew on Nov 29, 2011 10:15 am • linkreport

I'm not surprised that JHU wants to build a huge for-profit complex. Look north at their Physics "campus" in Laurel to see what they want to build: Its just office building surrounded by acres of parking lots, and growing.

by efj6 on Nov 29, 2011 10:16 am • linkreport

Instead of demanding CBAs for big box stores, local governments should regulate as the Danes do and prohibit any stores larger than 30-some thousand square feet. The giant stores create more problems than they're worth.

The Columbia Heights Target is about 6 times that size limit. The P ST Whole Foods is 10K square feet over that limit. Seems like Target and WF have been a huge net benefit for those areas and DC as a whole. I think it's less about size and more about design.

by Falls Church on Nov 29, 2011 10:17 am • linkreport

I'm pretty sure I have shopped in stores in Denmark over 30k SF.

by spookiness on Nov 29, 2011 10:30 am • linkreport

@andrew:

Much of DC's anti-Wal-Mart backlash has been intellectually dishonest, and only seems to have bought us a CBA that panders to the "oldschool" DC causes, without actually accomplishing much of anything

Have you seen the plans for some of these DC urban WalMarts?

Compare that with this:

If a small-footprint mixed use WalMart is the end-result of DC's "intellectually dishonest" "old-school pandering" ineffectual posturing, I'd say we've had a pretty good days work.

Frankly, the "old-school" stuff is just icing on the cake. No reason DC shouldn't extract whatever the Hell they can from WalMart, just the way that WalMart does with every rural community it deals with. We're dealing from a position of strength--DC's government has an obligation to its taxpayers to wring every concession out of WalMart that it can.

by oboe on Nov 29, 2011 10:34 am • linkreport

@ Falls Church:Seems like Target and WF have been a huge net benefit for those areas and DC as a whole.

Have they? Facts please...

by Jasper on Nov 29, 2011 10:35 am • linkreport

@Oboe

Oh, I don't disagree at all. I'm talking more about the opposition to Wal Mart's labor practices (and the fact that a few of the proposed stores aren't all that great).

We should definitely pressure Wal Mart into building stores that comply with urban best practices, and I've actually been fairly impressed by how accommodating Wal Mart have been. The design of the Fort Totten and NJ Ave stores is pretty great, and we should welcome those developments with open arms.

However, once Wal Mart made the concessions, many DC residents (led by the mayor himself) continued to demand that Wal Mart buy into Gray's pet Skylands project, turn the entire deal into a Ward 7/8 jobs program, and write an entirely separate set of labor laws and standards that evidently only apply to Wal Mart. I don't disagree that Wal Mart's labor practices are fairly despicable. However, they're well within the bounds of the law, and unless we want to change the laws that apply to all businesses, we can only voice our own personal displeasure, and vote with our dollars by not shopping there. It's completely inappropriate for the city government to demand Wal Mart to adhere to a different set of labor laws from everybody else.

Many of these demands fail to acknowledge the huge strides that Wal Mart were willing to make to accommodate the DC market. I don't think we want to send the message that we're impossible to satisfy, and that Wal Mart might as well steamroll over the District, given that they'll receive opposition no matter what they do.

We can and should push for better wages, fair trade, and universal healthcare. However, this certainly isn't the place to do it.

by andrew on Nov 29, 2011 11:07 am • linkreport

Oh, and I've also been irked that Target never seem to be targeted in the same way (no pun intended). They're just as bad.

by andrew on Nov 29, 2011 11:08 am • linkreport

I live a couple of blocks from Target in DCUSA, and have lived here since well before it was built. It definitely has been a boon for the neighborhood, and presumably the city as a whole. I stop in there almost every day on the way home from work or the gym to pick something up. Every day I see people applying for jobs at their employment application kiosks. I have no scientific studies immediately at hand but it seems to me painfully obvious that WF and Target have been huge net wins for Logan Circle, Columbia Heights, and DC.

by MrTinDC on Nov 29, 2011 12:05 pm • linkreport

Jasper,

So what are you saying? Are you saying it has or hasn't been a benefit?

Before DCUSA there were acres of empty lots around an unused metro station.

Now there has been conservatively a billion dollars worth of construction, 600K sq/ft of new retail, including a 35K ft grocery store. ~750 new retal or condominium units, and 1200 new permanent jobs, all within a 2 sq/block area.

Heck, Target and Bestbuy alone, with their per sq/ft revenue of $300 and $1,000 sq/ft respectively see tens of millions in taxable sales per year.

The Urban Institute claims that from 2000 to 2005, home buyers' median income rose from $76,000 to $103,000 in Columbia Heights and as GGW reported back in 2009, YoY ridership increases 2008-2009 at the Columbia Height station was increased 25%.
http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/2258/metro-morsels/#comments

by freely on Nov 29, 2011 12:23 pm • linkreport

if you are a business dealing with different suppliers or customers, you are certainly going to try to negotiate to extract the most economic rent from each, and not feel a need to offer the same terms to all.

While it may be legally difficult for a local govt to do the same, its not clear to me that it is not desirable public policy to do so.

Its certainly clear to me that A. Big box retailers face different options, different levels of leverage, etc, than other businesses do, and that B. Walmart has unique economic leverage, and unique impact. While it may be desirable to have higher wages and better insurance for all, its not clear to me that you can get the same bang for hte buck establishing universal policies (especially by a local govt) as you can negotiating case by case.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 29, 2011 12:24 pm • linkreport

@Andrew, many DC residents (led by the mayor himself) continued to demand that Wal Mart buy into Gray's pet Skylands project, turn the entire deal into a Ward 7/8 jobs program, and write an entirely separate set of labor laws and standards that evidently only apply to Wal Mart.

Can you provide a point of reference?

I wouldn't doubt that DC residents (which includes our mayor) wouldn't advocate for jobs EOTR. Why wouldn't we? If EOTR gets its firts big box retailor, why wouldn't we advocate and expect it to create jobs? It seems like a reasonable position to me.

And if you haven't seen Skyland, it actually "should" be every DC residents "pet project." There's plenty of commercial-ready space that could replace the current crop of dusty liquor stores and Shoe City's. Think H-Street pre-2007.

To be honest, I didn't know that DC implemented a different set of labor laws applicable only to WalMart (which is why I asked for a point of reference). But just on the surface, if you admit that Walmart has horrible labor practices, wouldn't a city be justified in ensuring that those practices aren't the same here in DC? A jobs program (as you describe) is in many ways an economic plan that will benefit the city as a whole, especially for us EOTR.

Shoot, I prefer Target but you can best believe I can't wait to catch a bus up the street to a new Walmart. Are any of the new stores supercenters or just the retail ones?

by HogWash on Nov 29, 2011 12:26 pm • linkreport

Before DCUSA there were acres of empty lots around an unused metro station.

Now there has been conservatively a billion dollars worth of construction, 600K sq/ft of new retail, including a 35K ft grocery store. ~750 new retal or condominium units, and 1200 new permanent jobs, all within a 2 sq/block area.

Sure, but you're confusing causation with correlation. The period we're discussing was the first explosion of the gentrification boom, and the return of the middle-class to the city.

To say, "Before Target, empty lots; after Target, a billion dollars in construction" is a bit like saying McDonald's caused the post-WWII economic boom. Or to use a local example, that the H Street Connection strip mall is responsible for the Atlas district renaissance.

by oboe on Nov 29, 2011 1:18 pm • linkreport

I think the confusion is more that Target is a confounding variable in the equation of the economic rise of Col. Hts.

by Tina on Nov 29, 2011 1:29 pm • linkreport

Sure, but does anyone really think that had the Target instead been a JC Penny, or a mixed use development with a supermarket on the first floor (or, say, a 'pocket WalMart') that the trajectory of Columbia Heights' revitalization would've been any different? That seems unlikely to me.

by oboe on Nov 29, 2011 1:45 pm • linkreport

Look north at their Physics "campus" in Laurel to see what they want to build: Its just office building surrounded by acres of parking lots, and growing.

It is a research institution of JHU employees that engages in a lot of publicly-supported research as well as hosting an academic campus for engineering classes taken by students all over the DMV. It's not some kind of private office complex for businesses.

Though it is a planning/design catastrophe.

by JustMe on Nov 29, 2011 1:59 pm • linkreport

Sure, but does anyone really think that had the Target instead been a JC Penny, or a mixed use development with a supermarket on the first floor (or, say, a 'pocket WalMart') that the trajectory of Columbia Heights' revitalization would've been any different?

No, it would not have been different and that's precisely my point. I think what we can all agree on is that Columbia Heights' rise is clearly linked to all the retail development that occurred there. Whether that is an urban format big box store like Target or Walmart, a medium box store like JCP or Safeway, or a bunch of small retailers, it probably wouldn't have made much of a difference. It's ALL good. Hence, the reason we shouldn't have blanket restrictions like "no stores over 30K square feet." The need is for well designed retail development, regardless of whether it's Target/Walmart or something else.

The question for CH circa 2000 or Skyland today isn't whether there's an incremental benefit of a gaggle of small businesses vs. Target/Walmart but rather whether there's a net benefit of Target/Walmart vs. the waste of space currently there.

by Falls Church on Nov 29, 2011 2:01 pm • linkreport

@oboe

Would things have been different if Target were a JC Penney or a supermarket instead? Undoubtedly yes. Target provides a metro-accessible store that doesn't exist elsewhere in DC. Also, a supermarket also existed in the area previously; the Giant opened up in 2005. The promise of that supermarket had not driven much development up to that point; when they started constructing DCUSA there were several other development projects also starting at that time.

Your comparison of McDonald's or the H Street strip mall is ridiculous because it ignores scale, availability of other options, transit access, etc.

by MLD on Nov 29, 2011 2:07 pm • linkreport

For what it's worth, the Danish Planning Act allows for exemptions from the 3000 square meter area rule when there are “special reasons based on planning considerations”. The point is that sound planning has to come first, and then *maybe* a larger store can be permitted. Here in the States, we generally allow the big box store by right and *then* try to place restrictions on case-by-case basis. The effect is that we get far more big box stores that really are big boxes and far fewer that are true mixed-use developments. It also means that we've allowed very large chains composed of very large stores to dominate our economy. With such power, labor and environment issues naturally follow.

I will not deny that Target has contributed significantly to the revitalization of Columbia Heights. However, I do wonder if smaller stores may have proven more resilient in the long run given the very uncertain future in regards to broader sustainability challenges. I'm thinking of the Strong Towns philosophy. http://www.strongtowns.org/

by Phil LaCombe on Nov 29, 2011 2:31 pm • linkreport

I would guess the revitalization of Columbia Heights came about because of its location as the next logical step on the gentrification corridor stretching from Logan, to U Street, to Adams-Morgan, to Mt Pleasant. The announcement of the Tivoli redevelopment, and the "town center" (and yes, Target, though that was met with mixed response) just kicked things into a higher gear. That gave the green light to the scores of younger families who were looking to buy a reasonably sized house, within a reasonable distance of nightlife and restaurants, but who had long ago been priced out of Logan, than Adams-Morgan, then Mt Pleasant. Columbia Heights was the next logical step, Target or no.

If you look at the demographics in Columbia Heights, the torrent of new money that's poured into that neighborhood was likely a lot more excited about the prospect of the shops at the Tivoli, the Wonderland, and the inevitable gold-rush of bars and restaurants that we've seen in the last 5 years or so than the prospect of transit-accessible Target.

The Columbia Heights Target is likely a uniquely valuable resource to some small number of DC residents for whom it's more accessible than the Target built on top of the Metro in Wheaton (Or the overlapping set of retail offerings at Pentagon City Mall. Or Friendship Heights.) That number can't be all that big, though.

I'm not arguing that the Target is a bad thing--I'm arguing that you could put any one of a dozen configurations of retail, entertainment, and residential in that spot and the impact would be about the same.

It's actually very similar to H Street: by 2004, the neighborhood had hit a saturation point of upper-middle class residents with a ton of disposable income. By that point, the tipping point was in sight.

by oboe on Nov 29, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

It's ALL good. Hence, the reason we shouldn't have blanket restrictions like "no stores over 30K square feet." The need is for well designed retail development, regardless of whether it's Target/Walmart or something else.

I agree with your point about arbitrary limits. While a 70,000 sq ft mega-retailer in two acres of free parking would essentially kill any urban neighborhood, a "well-designed" one might not.

Heck, a "well-designed" mixed-use project of 100k sq ft isn't necessarily unwelcome. Just so long as it's well-designed.

The only problem is that there's a trust issue, and absent an arbitrary hard-limit, you're likely to get some sort of backroom deal for the 70,000 sq ft shopping complex in acres of parking--but with a fancy Tudor-style facade and real palm trees.

We make arbitrary limits because we cannot trust ourselves.

:)

by oboe on Nov 29, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

It also means that we've allowed very large chains composed of very large stores to dominate our economy. With such power, labor and environment issues naturally follow.

Why is it that you don't think that labor/environment issues are almost as significant of a concern with small businesses? Last I checked, Starbucks provides all its employees with health care but I doubt that any of the small local coffee shops do the same. Also, with larger scale comes greater efficiency. The ability to get to scale in a large homogenous market is one of the reasons there are so many world class multinational retail stores based in the US -- and so few in places like Denmark.

by Falls Church on Nov 29, 2011 4:15 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church

I'm no expert on the topic, but I can link you to some resources regarding big boxes and labor:
http://www.newrules.org/retail/key-studies-walmart-and-bigbox-retail#3

The largest stores (Wal-Mart and Target) categorically reject unions and can get away with it because they are so large. They use their size to wipe out the competition and dictate the acceptable labor standards. This is the story of my mother's hometown and countless others across the USA. The small-to-medium sized grocery store and supermarket sector is much more competitive, and its workers are most often unionized under UFCW. I don't know what the story is with Yes! in DC, but the closest equivalent in Baltimore (Eddie's) is unionized. Small co-ops all the way up to Shoppers Warehouse and Safeway are unionized.

I'd say Starbucks is the exception when it comes to labor policy. They have an relatively enlightened CEO.

by Phil LaCombe on Nov 29, 2011 5:27 pm • linkreport

@Falls Church-I think Phil is talking more about resilience in terms of job creation and tax base but I could be wrong. I think he was looking to reference this article Chuck did. http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2011/8/15/measuring-productivity.html

by thump on Nov 29, 2011 5:36 pm • linkreport

@Thump
Yes, thanks for linking to that article. Some of Kunstler's writings regarding the "entropy" of large chains versus local and regional business are also thought-provoking. He says "efficiency is the straightest path to hell". Not sure if I'd go that far, but I agree in principle.

by Phil LaCombe on Nov 29, 2011 5:40 pm • linkreport

I think the important thing to keep in mind when talking about large corporations versus local businesses is that pretty much the entire competitive advantage that large corps have is one of "economy of scale." They're more *efficient*.

But there's a lot to be said for inefficiency. An "efficient" business environment is one in which shareholder and executive compensation is maximized, and worker income stagnates.

by oboe on Nov 30, 2011 9:33 am • linkreport

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