Community outrage over a planned strip mall development in Germantown continued to flare Thursday night during a heated face to face meeting with the project’s management team.
Nearly 100 neighbors packed into the First Presbryterian Church in Germantown for the Germantown Community Connection event, many still sore about the details for Chelten Plaza at Chelten and Pulaski avenues.
Save-A-Lot, a discount grocery store, Dollar Tree and home décor chain Anna’s Linens will anchor the $14 million development, partially funded with a $3 million taxpayer subsidy. The rest of the site’s retailers have not been decided.
Residents have pleaded for more upscale tenants at the location since first becoming aware of the project two months ago. Neighbors were not consulted during the development’s planning stages, another serious sticking point for many residents, though it is not legally required because most details of the plan fit the basic zoning requirements.
At the center of the two-hour fray was Patrick Burns, whose company Pulaski Partners LP is behind the development. Burns also heads The Fresh Grocer, which closed a store at the site at the end of February with no notice.
Flanking Burns on either end of a long table were: zoning lawyer Carl Primavera, architect Jerry Roller, local Save-A-Lot owner Shawn Rinnier, project manager Gabriel Clark, real estate agent Michael Murray and the Dollar Tree’s Patrick Mundy.
During a tense question and answer session, that group appeared at points like defendants on trial.
Several residents expressed concerns about another discount store, such as a Dollar Tree, coming to an area that they feel already has its fill of them.
“We are not your average dollar store,” Mundy tried to assure the crowd. “We are not a garage sale with a roof on it…we take pride in what we do.”
In a related question, one resident asked about the validity of a zoning overlay put in place by Eighth District Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller. That overlay prohibits, among other things, variety stores along Chelten Avenue, where the project is located, and has been seen by neighbors as a possible way to block the undesired dollar store.
Primavera assured the crowd that the planned Dollar Store does not violate the variety-store overlay.
“We do not have damaged or seconds. Two, we don’t have off-brand merchandise. Three, we don’t have merchandise that’s out of date. Four, we don’t have miscellaneous items every time you go,” said Primavera.
“If we didn’t have dollar in the name, people would not be as upset,” he added.
Connie Winters, who owns a mixed use property directly across from the Chelten Plaza site, argued that the demographics of the Northwest neighborhood warrant better quality stores. She used Save-A-Lot as an example.
“There is a good market. There are a lot of middle-income and lower-middle-income people and upper income people in Germantown who want to shop in a nice grocery store,” said Winters.
Burns, citing a market study of the area that his company commissioned, has said he chose a Save-A-Lot for Chelten Plaza because he didn’t believe a higher-end grocery store could survive at the site.
Burns did at one time consider renovating and expanding the Fresh Grocer he opened at Chelten and Pulaski in 2006. That store, retrofitted from an older supermarket that occupied the building, lost $750,000 during one of its five-years at the site, a company spokesperson told NewsWorks.
Other residents who lined up to question Burns, asked about plans for keeping Chelten Plaza safe and clean. The site, which Burns has owned since 2006, has been anything but well-maintained, they argued. Trash and graffiti have been commonplace and neighbors fear more of the same.
“We don’t create the trash there,” said Burns. “We’ve spent thousands of dollars picking up trash, tires and debris.”
Burns added that a sign will be posted at the development with a number to call if trash becomes a problem. There will also be security guards, he said.
But perhaps the most raucous moment of the night came when Jim Foster, publisher of Germantown Newspapers, stepped to the microphone.
Foster, who grew up in Germantown, asked what perhaps was on everyone’s mind. “Since you know how this community feels, why not punt, make the phone calls…and start over?” he asked the project’s panel.
Following a sustained applause, Primavera explained that scenario wasn’t likely given the amount of money that has already been invested in the project.
“There’s a problem with that because quite frankly, they’ve made substantial investments, their bankers have made investments,” he said.
Primavera added that the investors are at this point contractually obligated to move forward with the project as it stands today.
“I’ve never heard of a community complain about state money going into its own community, but we’re learning,” said Primavera.
Germantown Community Connection will meet May 12 to discuss the responses received during the meeting and take an official stance on the development.
Primavera said the project management team will work directly with GCC as the development progresses.
Correction: This is a corrected version of the story above. The original had incorrect information about the next GCC meeting. The correct date is May 12.