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WASHINGTON - Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is taking steps to ensure its future in Maryland by adamantly opposing zoning rules that have been proposed in Montgomery County. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer has commissioned a poll, collected thousands of signatures for a petition, and is trying to assemble a coalition to persuade the Montgomery County Council to reject proposed zoning restrictions on its supercenters, according to the Washington Post.
"We don't want to lose these battles," Mia Masten, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, told the newspaper. She said the proposed restrictions could have a ripple effect throughout Maryland, blocking the chain's expansion. "It can have a chilling effect on growth."
Other governments in Maryland, including Rockville and Alexandria, already have passed restrictive zoning rules designed to slow the growth of big box stores.
While Wal-Mart has no immediate plans to build a supercenter in Montgomery County, it has not denied the possibility. The chain currently has a Wal-Mart store in Germantown and a Sam's Club in Gaithersburg.
The region's two biggest supermarkets, Giant Food LLC and Safeway Inc., and the union representing the supermarkets' 18,000 local workers, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, are supporting more regulations for big-box stores.
"We already have to jump through hoops to build a store," said Giant spokesman Barry F. Scher. "Stores that are two to three times the size of a typical Giant need additional attention from the regulators."
The latest proposal, which is slated to be introduced in September, would require chains to obtain a special exemption to build a store larger than 130,000 square feet, a description that fits Wal-Mart's supercenter format: a 145,000- to 210,000-square-foot footprint with 36 departments.
Earlier this week, the council revised an earlier proposal that would have required special zoning exemptions for stores that are larger than 120,000 square feet and devote 10 percent or more of their space to food.
Proponents of the zoning restrictions say big box stores would burden county streets with more traffic and take a long-term toll on the environment.
According to Masten, about 2,000 shoppers in Wal-Mart's Montgomery County stores have signed a petition that called the proposed zoning rules "anti-competitive and anti-consumer."