Details emerge on Chelten Plaza incentive offer to GCC

While Germantown waits for a zoning board decision on the Chelten Plaza Dollar Tree store, Germantown Community Connection (GCC) is considering a formal community benefit agreement with the developer.

Pulaski Partners submitted a proposed Community Cooperation Commitment to GCC president Betty Turner on Sept. 27, just before the zoning hearing on the permit appeal. Turner said she shared it with GCC board members, but the group will likely not consider it publicly until a meeting on Oct. 13.

The document, which describes The Plaza at Chelten as “a family friendly shopping experience in Historic Germantown,” contains a pledge for about $100,000 in annual common-area maintenance jobs on the site targeted to area businesses and workers. Those could include trash maintenance, pest control, security, snow removal and other jobs. It says tenant retailers will hire from the local community, and positions will be posted locally first.

As of Sept. 27, construction at Chelten Plaza is about 35 percent done, and the Save-A-Lot supermarket is on schedule to open Dec. 15, it states.

The agreement promises about 200 construction jobs and 100 permanent spots for local residents. But critics of the plan say few Germantown residents are among the crews working at the shopping center, and note that some jobs will simply move from the Save-A-Lot on Wayne Avenue, which will close to make way for the new one at Chelten Plaza.

Turner said nothing about the proposal is final, but that it represents a formalized offer from developer Pat Burns about his future commitment to Germantown. Burns mentioned the agreement in his testimony at the zoning hearing on Aug. 28, but it wasn’t included in his evidence binder and few have seen it.

“The goal of presenting this commitment is to then move forward with the development of a legally binding community benefit agreement,” it reads.

In the proposal, Pulaski Partners details background of the project, outlines community employment goals, and discusses site management and customer service. It also pledges “ongoing support of local educational, philanthropic and social organizations with a common goal to enhance the Germantown neighborhood, our City, and the well-being of its residents.”

Asked whether she took that to mean money, Turner said it was possible — but not yet. She emphasized that GCC has received no payments from Burns or his company and said there has been no offer of any.

Rather, she said, the two groups have been in an ongoing discussion about how to make Chelten Plaza work.

“We decided to negotiate with Burns in order to have some community benefit agreement in place, no matter what the zoning board decided to do,” Turner said.

The proposed agreement talks about the Save-A-Lot under construction at the site as a hybrid of the Fresh Grocer, which has heavier emphasis on fresh foods, and “the traditionally affordable Save-A-Lot food store.” Burns previously operated a Fresh Grocer at Chelten and Pulaski, and operates seven others in the area.

In an interview before the zoning hearing last Wednesday, Burns bristled at protesters’ assertions that he thinks Germantown is “a ghetto” or that he deliberately avoided courting a better class of retailer for the shopping center.

GCC’s continued efforts to negotiate with Burns have been a sore point with protesters, led by attorney Yvonne Haskins, who filed the zoning appeal. She said the groundswell of opposition to Burns’ plan, and GCC’s reluctance to take a firmer stance, show it to be out of step and playing by old political rules.

“I don’t think that GCC is representative anymore,” Haskins said.

Turner said she understands, and supports, the idea of seeking the best possible quality development for the neighborhood. But, she said, it’s GCC’s charge to also deal with the reality of the situation: Burns owns the property and can develop the supermarket of his choosing on it. Beyond that, she said, GCC’s efforts are aimed at making it work.

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