By Mark F. Gray, Special to the AFRO, mgray@afro.com

The Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Council (MNCPPC) approved a four-million-square-foot warehouse project that is expected to be an Amazon fulfillment center in the growing Westphalia community of Prince George’s County.  Plans are for the center to be built along Maryland Route 4 (Pennsylvania Avenue) at Melwood Road near the Capital Beltway once they can be finalized. 

Since no lease agreement has been signed, the full details of the project cannot be released. Nonetheless, all indications are that the mammoth internet retail giant looks to be the prime tenant for a massive facility that will impact residents of the affluent – primarily African American community – in the vicinity of the former Andrews Air Force Base.

Amazon was approved by the Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning Council to build their new fulfillment center in the growing Westphalia community of Prince George’s County. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

The Council gave the go-ahead to the project despite the tepid response from a community that felt they weren’t adequately considered by developers as the plans unfolded.  During a community meeting two days before MNCPPC approved the plans, residents of the Westphalia Community Center vigorously questioned representatives from Walton Westphalia Development Corporation in the clubhouse at Lake Presidential Golf Club.

“It’s kind of disturbing,” said Westphalia resident Jerry Porter. “Everybody thought that they were getting retail. There’s people who invested years before we did that are still waiting for just a grocery store, and now they’re going to have a big warehouse that they’re going to have to look at from their property,” 

Many residents hoped that a grocery store would be the first of the retail shops that would open at the proposed Westphalia Town Center. Walton Westphalia Development Corporation, the developer of the Westphalia Town Center project, promised that shops will eventually occupy space in the town center.  The current proposed facility and grounds would cover 80 acres, and four million gross square feet including ground-floor offices with 1,794 vehicle parking spaces and 267 loading spaces, according to a story that was first reported in the Washington Business Journal. 

“Amazon owns Whole Foods,” said Anwar Golladay, a Westphalia resident. if Amazon is desiring to come into our neighborhood, why not give us that Whole Foods.” 

However, there are no specifics about what type of retail establishments, if any, that will be a part of the final project. The developer’s initial conceptual site plan that was approved in April called for a fulfillment and distribution center 70-feet high, whose footprint would be 700,000 by 2.6 million gross-square-feet and include a functional four-story interior which has now reportedly expanded.

“We’ve got lots of retail ,” said Ed Fleming, President of the east region for Walton Development and Management. “ grocery store, coffee shops and restaurants will go in here. “Retail is going to be along Pennsylvania Avenue and between Pennsylvania and Presidential .”  

The facility is expected to impact local traffic with approximately 150 tractor-trailers leaving the facility about every 10 minutes each day.   Many residents at the meeting expressed major concerns about how the trucks, the additional traffic and the noise will impact the community.

“Clearly, you have to acknowledge that folks are still very emotionally upset and still concerned about this application and we still have a lot of work to do,” said William Shipp, an attorney for Walton Westphalia Development Corporation.

“We need to get better about communication. Whether this project goes through or not — we hope that it does — this is a community that is going to be here.”

The operators of the center have committed to work with Prince George’s County officials by adding signs on neighborhood streets that would reportedly ban truck traffic moving through the community to somewhat capitulate to the concerns of residents.