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2006-02-27
Kilmarnock, VA. Eight Years Later, Wal-Mart Returns

In 1998, residents in Kilmarnock, Virginia asked me to visit their community to help them ward off rumored interest by Wal-Mart in their small town. The company never did submit a proposal, and the project faded from memory. This week, the following email arrived at Sprawl-Busters: "Have you heard? Wal-Mart is planning a 150,000+ square foot supercenter for Kilmarnock. We are a very small (1200 people) rural community on the Chesapeake Bay in the Northern Neck of Virginia. The entire Northern Neck, which consists of 4 counties, only has a population of about 53,000. There is already a Wal-Mart supercenter 25 minutes in one direction and another about 30 minutes in the other direction. Tonight they are coming to a town meeting to tell us what they propose. It sounds pretty much cut and dried. Local councilors believe their rhetoric about what they will do for the community and how this store will look completely different from other Wal-Marts etc. We don't need Wal-Mart period but we certainly don't need a supercenter to kill off our local supermarkets." The Rappahannock Record reports that Wal-Mart wants to build a 180,000 s.f. superstore in Kilmarnock on 65 acres of commercially zoned land. "We're in the beginning process," a Wal-Mart representative told the paper. "The plan is to try to partner with the town to file an application with the town." A site plan has been submitted to the town for review. Wal-Mart hopes to hold a public presentation for the community, which is pretty much standard procedure these days. One local official told the newspaper that all Wal-Mart has to do is file their plan. "If it's all under a single ownership and a master plan, nothing (needs to be done)." Wal-Mart recently took out an ad in the Record to promote is proposal. But one Kilmarnock Councilman, Fletcher Brown IV, said that the Prince William County zoning ordinance requires big box stores over 80,000 s.f. to obtain a special use permit that regulates architecture, landscaping, lighting, parking, pedestrian access and maintenance. Brown said he wanted the ordinance to be considered to help the town prepare for the coming of Wal-Mart "versus what we're doing now, which is nothing." The town council last month authorized the town administration to research ways in which the town could regulate big box stores. But the town's lawyer told officials the council did not specify exactly what the council intended the research to be. So he did nothing. Last month, Brown made a motion to restrict large-scale development until the town's comprehensive plan is updated. The motion called for a moratorium on any construction of a single building larger than 45,000 s.f. until the town's comprehensive plan update was done. But that motion was withdrawn, because town officials had no idea when the Comp Plan would be done. Brown's second motion was to research the big box issue. That motion passed, but no research was done.

What you can do: Kilmarnock could stop this Wal-Mart with one sentence limiting the size of retail stores. Kilmarnock officials were told by their town attorney that they could not do anything not authorized by the state legislature. But placing a cap on building size is something that is squarely within their police powers to do, just as they can regulate building height, lot size, and setbacks. Poorly informed local officials are responsible for many of the worst zoning projects in America, and it looks like beautiful Kilmarnock and the Northern Neck is about to become the latest uninformed mistake. For earlier stories on this town, search Newsflash by "Kilmarnock."










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

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