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1999-03-20
Manhattan, KS. Wal-Mart's Dirty Pool.

Manhattan, KS has absolutely no need for a second Wal-Mart, except to meet the corporate needs of the company, but the Manhattan Urban Area Planning Board has voted to table the issue of a second store until such time as Wal-Mart can return with more information about its traffic impact. Opponents of the superstore tried to get the Board to vote the project down, but killing the development failed on a 2-5 vote. The Board then voted 5-2 to table the project. Board member Carol Peak, who voted to stop the project, said "I think it's the wrong location. By tabling this matter, we're justy delaying the inevitable." Wal-Mart has presented a traffic study for their store, but it did not convince the Board that the local road cold handle the projected traffic volume. The fact that the store has one entrance also has Board members worried about a bottleneck. Wal-Mart also did not convince the Board that their project would have a minimal effect on the adjacent Arbor Heights neighborhood. Wal-Mart has agreed to meet with neighbors before the next Board meeting. More than 120 people attended the hearing. In the meantime, Wal-Mart has hired a marketing firm to conduct a telephone survey of 300 to 500 Manhattan residents "from all around the city", according to Wal-Mart. "We're not limiting it to any one side of town." Wal-Mart conducts such "surveys" routinely now, as a way of butressing their case before local officials. The "surveys" usually do not release the actual questions used, but only summaries of what was asked. The samples taken are usually very small. The survey will be used to try and impress the incoming City Commission, which will be elected on April 6th.One incumbent Commission member, Steve Hall, has refrained from taking a side on the Wal-Mart issue. He told reporters from The Mercury newspapear "Zoning issues are quasi-judicial" and that Board members are acting like judges when hearing proposals. "When judges form an opinion without hearing evidence, they apparently have formed their opinions through some outside process." The Wal-Mart proposal is to construct a 153,085 s.f. supercenter on the west side of Manhattan, providing the same products as the current Wal-Mart in the city, except for the addition of groceries in the supercenter. Wal-Mart has chosen a location that is only 160 feet from residential homes. The store's loading dock will be that close to a home. This close proximity to homes caused local residents to form the Arbor Heights-Warner Park Neighborhood Association just to stop Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is using Joseph Knopp to serve as their local lawyer. Knopp has extra motivation in the case, since he happens to be the owner of the property Wal-Mart wants to build on. "It's easy to be anti-Wal-Mart," Knopp told reporters. "I'm just asking for the public to be fair." Area merchants have testified that Wal-Mart will tip the playing field against the Westloop shopping center and the Village Plaza. "Wal-Mart is not competition for the little guy. It crushes the little guy. You can treat your customers just fine and dandy, and Wal-Mart can undercut you. As far as I'm concerned, it's dirty pool," said local business owner Carol Anderson. Wal-Mart claims it has no plans at present to close its existing store -- but relocations are the main reason why there are 333 empty Wal-Marts on the market today. The Mercury reported that "unless the city makes some clause requiring Wal-Mart to make a sincere effort to keep both stores running, nothing would prevent the company from abandoning the older building, but keeping other businesses from moving in."

What you can do: Sprawl-busters should always carefully watch what local permitting boards say and do during the Wal-Mart or Home Depot hearings. If a board member says anything that can be construed as supporting the project, either at hearings or in the newspaper, they can be prejudicing themselves before all the facts are in, and could later be charged with having been predisposed towards the project. This issue can be raised as part of a legal appeal. So remember the words of Manhattan City Commissioner Steve Hall" "they apparently have formed their opinions through some outside process."










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

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