Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, February 16, 2019

Ban on restrictive grocery store covenants renewed in D.C. Council

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh (courtesy Courtesy Barbara L. Salisbury/Mary Cheh's office).

District residents who’d rather not abruptly lose their neighborhood grocery store can rest easy, at least for now. The D.C. Council unanimously approved emergency legislation for a second time Tuesday to prohibit grocery store owners from selling their property with restrictions that would prevent future grocers from opening.

It’s a practice often carried out by corporations to cap competition should they decide to open a new store somewhere nearby, according to Councilmember Mary Cheh, who wrote the bill. Covenants attached to a sale might say that the new owner of the land cannot build a grocery store on the site, therefore removing a grocer from the neighborhood.

The Council originally passed a nearly identical emergency bill in October 2014, after concerns the Safeway in Palisades might sell its land with a covenant barring a future grocery store on the site.

“This type of property restriction hurts residents by limiting a community’s access to fresh food,” Cheh said when introducing the bill.

Cheh (D-Ward 3) introduced permanent legislation in February, but it has stalled in the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Another emergency bill buys more time.

“Basically, because Councilmember [Vincent] Orange did not move the permanent bill this year, we needed to introduce another emergency bill to keep the restrictive covenant in place before the last year’s emergency expires,” Cheh spokesperson Kelly Whittier wrote in an email. Orange chairs the regulatory committee.

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