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2004-09-07
Westbrook, ME. Residents Challenge Wal-Mart Plans in Court

Yet another Wal-Mart project is heading to court, not to a ribbon-cutting. Citizens in Westbrook, Maine, have taken the world's largest retailer to court, fighting a rezoning of land from industrial to commercial. The site that Wal-Mart covets was a wood dowel mill for 85 years. The world may not need as many wood dowels anymore, but a group called Westbrook Our Home doesn't think the area needs more Wal-Marts either. Local residents filed this report: "The wood dowel company has been working with Wal-Mart for years (silently) with the city's assistance. Neighbors, abutters, and community members figured it out and decided it was not what was best for Westbrook and we have been fighting it ever since. Westbrook Our Home is currently participating in a legal appeal of the recent zone change which would allow the land owner to sell their property to Wal-Mart so that they can construct a 203,000 s.f. 24 x 7 Super Wal-Mart. The property abuts an established residential neighborhood on two sides. Abutters and neighbors and members of the community turned out in full force at all of the public hearings to request that the City Council not approve the requested zone change. Despite this strong public showing the Council voted 4-3 in favor of the zone change. The Council promised that they would add extra protections into the site plan provision section of the zoning ordinance. These protections would help to protect the residential area from the deleterious effects of this massive development. Currently residents are awaiting a public hearing with the Planning Board where they can give input regarding the protections. In the meantime, Westbrook Our Home is fighting the zone change in court."

What you can do: Residents in Westbrook realize that there is no way to "protect" a residential neighborhood from an out of scale big box retailer. You can buffer all you want, you can berm all you want, you can paint the store different colors, you can move the dumpsters, you can change the loading docks -- but you cannot alter the massive impact that the traffic, light, noise and constant activity at a Wal-Mart will do to residential abuttors. I wrote about several such cases in "The Case Against Wal-Mart." The conclusion: stores that are four times the size of a football field are just incompatible with residential living, and the construction of such a store is a de facto failure of zoning to protect the invested value in the residential areas. By one vote, the City Council of Westbrook has sold out the homeowners in the area -- and all the talk about mitigation or protection is simply too little, too late. Instead, Westbrook needs to revisit its zoning code to prevent such inharmonious uses from abutting one another, and put a limit on the size of retail stores that touch residential zoning.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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