Legislation meant to prevent a fast-food takeover of Prince George's County neighborhoods is being examined by the County Council, though some critics are calling it an attack on free enterprise.
The bill would force businesses that acquire property to notify the county if they intend to change its use, allowing for council members and the public to comment on -- and potentially appeal -- the change. Councilwoman Karen Toles, D-Suitland, who introduced the bill, said it was to prevent less desirable businesses like fast-food restaurants and nightclubs from taking over old stores.
"If you go on Branch Avenue, it's nothing but liquor stores, it's nothing but fast food," Toles said. "I've had residents come up to me and say, 'I want more healthy eating options.' "
Currently, businesses do not need to notify anyone if they intend to change the use of a particular property. While the proposal would affect any businesses looking to change a location's use, the bill says it aims to promote "availability of healthful eating alternatives" and "reduction of detrimental food and beverage consumption."
The legislation is co-sponsored by Council President Andrea Harrison, D-Bladensburg, and council members Mary Lehman, D-Laurel, Obie Patterson, D-Fort Washington, and Ingrid Turner, D-Bowie.
J. Justin Wilson, senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit funded by restaurants, food companies and consumers, called the proposal "government paternalism." He cited a 2009 Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis study that found that living near a fast-food restaurant had little effect on children's weights.
"There's this mentality that tries to protect us from ourselves," Wilson said. "We know the difference between a banana and a banana split."
The push for healthier eating choices comes just two months after the county awarded a $300,000 loan from its $50 million Economic Development Incentive Fund to a Little Caesars Pizza owner looking to open two Prince George's locations.
The council proposal, Toles said, is about public openness rather than shutting out fast-food restaurants.
"The public has a right to know what's coming," she said. "It's not about regulating Big Macs."