Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Score another point for the Corporations-Are-People-Too camp.  The town council voted to approve what I shall call a Wal-blart SuperDuperCenter not far from the Common Household, just off a two-lane road that travels through a major county park. 

Several times during the contentious evening at the town council meeting, the Wal-blart representative said, “We just want to be treated like everyone else.”  The procedure of a business applying to build a property was likened to someone wanting to build a house.  Town council can’t reject a house-building project just because they might not like the person who plans to live there.

My thought to Wal-blart’s plea is just this:  You aren’t everyone else.  You are not a homeowner.  You are not even a regular retail store.  Wal-blart is a big box store, only more so.   Bigger, boxier, and blartier.

I hate to think of myself as a person who wants to block progress, but I guess I am.  The property is zoned for mixed use, and for ten years has had empty commercial buildings sitting on it.  A long time ago, it was used as a motor oil tank farm.  I should be thinking the town is fortunate to have a company willing to build there, because it really is ugly and useless now.  Still, it is hard to think of Wal-blart as progress.  I guess I prefer the eyesore we have now to increase in traffic that Wal-blart will inevitably bring through the park.

The town gave approval for a huge new shopping area last year, and already several big box stores (sporting goods, home furnishings) are in operation there, with more to come. That property, however, is on a major six-lane road, and much further than half a mile from the park.   Two years ago, another local shopping area was developed on previously empty land, with a big-box home improvement store, and some smaller shops and restaurants.  Right across the street from where the Wal-blart will be, there is already a grocery store and a Target.  I’m not a retail analyst (I hope someone is), but that seems to me like too much retail already.  Some of these stores will be going out of business.

Thinking about this store’s proximity to the park makes me sad.  I fear that there will be a lot of extra traffic on the road through the park, which is a main connector road from a 4-lane road to the six-lane road.

I hope I’m wrong about all this.

The worst part is how the deal went down.  John Q. Public just found out about the plans two weeks ago, hardly enough time to digest the idea.  By the time last night’s meeting occurred, the town council had just one week left to issue its approval.  This, more than anything else, made most people very angry.  The town council is made up of educated citizens, most of whom have been on town council for 30+ years.  They have done such a fine job in the past that no one thought to be scrutinizing their work.  I think they did not realize that a project like this should have plenty of notice to the public.  Informing the citizenry is a good way of getting some buy-in from wary people, and allows strong objectors to be fully heard.  The way it all came out makes us feel that the whole thing is duplicitous. 

The reaction of the citizens was at times embarrassing in its rudeness.  There really was no need to shout down the two little old ladies who were brave enough to voice their support of the project.  People attending the meeting would have been a lot more polite if the town council had gone about things the right way.

I objected, but only put up a namby-pamby fight, in the form of attending two town council meetings. Since the property was already zoned for mixed use, I felt there was not much legal reason to prevent the plans from going forward.

I’m trying to keep this in perspective.  At least two little old ladies will be happy to get low-cost stuff. And there are several other worse things that could be installed on that property.  At least these will Not be In My Back Yard: a casino, an opium den, a missile silo, a nuclear waste disposal site.


Cassi Renee said...

I feel your pain --and frustration. A few years ago we got a fast lesson in how local government is pretty much sold to the highest bidder. A guy near us wanted to build a subdivision out here in the county, down the street from us. We attended the local township meeting to protest, but nothing made any difference. There is only one rep on the county board from our area, so his voice was completely drowned out by reps who would not feel any impact from the decision. The guy who owned the land is the brother-in-law of the richest developer in our area. Luckily for us, the recession hit, and the subdivision has not been built (yet).

Funny how the wal-blarts, targets, lowes, menards, etc. all feel the need to build right next to each other until one of them fails.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

That sounds like a frustrating situation--from the short notice to the lack of imagination about the property. What a shame they can't put that giant box into an existing vacant box, that's the law in Portland, I believe. And any development should have strings attached to benefit the city--like requiring the developer to fund trails and greenspace. They're fighting a Walmart in Green Bay right now...for over a year they've held them off. Maybe with new leadership Walmart will back off of the superstore model? And I agree with Cassi's observation about the glut of retail that creates more empty buildings. Ugh.

Jon said...

They do have a point about being treated "like everyone else." Believe me, I am the last one to endorse corporations as people arguments. I believe that recent court decisions regarding this matter are grossly errant and misguided. That is not the argument in this case though. If your township has no current distinction for big box retailers then they would be in error to treat them differently from any other applicant. Contentious or not, if they meet the requirements they should not have special notification or other procedures outside the norm. To do so would open up the ability to arbitrarily discriminate against any project the council or a group of citizens might not like for any (maybe even personal) reason. What if there was a proposal for a mosque? While the majority of people where we live would have no problem with this, I am sure there would be a vocal few who might raise a stink. Should it be treated differently? What if some council members had a beef with the developer? They could cause problems simply because they wanted to.

I agree that some classes of projects should be treated differently but that has to be written into, and clarified by, the rules and laws before those projects are proposed. Local governments must be proactive and not reactive.

Common Household Mom said...

Yes, Jon, you are right. Intellectually I know you are right. I stand by my objections, though, which are touchy-feely, not legal objections.

A fair number of people in the township are glad to see this land developed (or, I should say, re-developed). Maybe in time, I will be okay with it, too. Right now, it just strikes me as far and away the wrong place for this type of store. But that's how that piece of land is zoned.

The world runs better on rule of law, and touchy-feely is not rule of law. Knowing that does not engender in me any eagerness to see this project go forward.

Suzanne Casamento said...

I don't blame you for being upset. I live in LA, so it's obviously different here. But I go out of my way to support small businesses and not shop at big box stores. They're just TOO big.

smalltownme said...

My area is so NIMBY we'll never get a big box, thank goodness. There is a small new shopping center being built a few miles away but they couldn't even get a Trader Joe's. Bummer. We do have a casino in the area. People complained vociferously but as it is on the reservation... It did bring in a lot of jobs.

smalltownme said...

P.S. I just read in the paper today that the casino is planning to build a 12-story hotel. OMG!

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

I totally feel your frustration. I came to San Diego in '98 from LA, so all of my experience is big city. San Diego has grown so much since then. There is a huge new shopping center going in a few miles from my house; meanwhile, only a mile from the new construction is a nearly totally vacant shopping center. Sigh.

I hope it all goes better than expected. :-(

The Crislers said...

UGH. I become more anti-progress the older I get. I particularly hate how companies come in and build a new building on empty land for their business RIGHT NEXT TO existing empty buildings. Even in a country our size, land is not limitless.