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2006-05-18
Olathe, KS. Residents Raise Issues With Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart seems to have found some low-hanging fruit in Olathe, Kansas, but not everyone in town is welcoming them in. Sprawl-Busters received the following email from a resident in Olathe who has watched the local scene for years, and doesn't like what he sees: "I learned about the Wal-Mart plan to locate at a corner in the west side of Olathe shortly before the Planning Commission meeting to vote for re-zoning that corner (previously zoned residential or multi-family). We had two weeks until the City Commission meeting to approve the re-zoning and in that time we called neighbors, mailed letters to the editors of two newspapers (not published), mailed 400 letters asking people to e-mail their City Commissioners and to attend the City Council meeting and visited as many downtown business owners as we could. Only three people against Wal-Mart attended that meeting. The City Council listened politely, asked questions of City Staff about issues we raised and then voted 7-0 for changing the zoning to allow Wal-Mart. They meet again on June 6 to approve the Wal-Mart proposal. We believe a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district for that piece of land has already been approved. We are very opposed to the construction of a Wal-Mart Super Store at the Northwest corner of Parker and Santa Fe for the following reasons: 1.Olathe currently has 4 large discount ("big-box") stores. We also have a discount mall on the south side of town. Should we rename our city? Something like Discount Heaven? Is this the image we want for Olathe? 2. The proposed Wal-Mart is seven tenths of a mile from Downtown Olathe. The City of Olathe has invested close to $200,000 for the Envision Olathe Downtown revitalization study and has spent additional money for parking studies and designs and streetscape design. The negative effect of big box stores on small retailers and pedestrian traffic is well known and documented. Does Olathe plan to undermine its emerging Downtown effort by encouraging a Wal-Mart to locate so close? 3.We have more than eight strip shopping centers or malls on the West side of town that are partly or mostly vacant. None of those shopping areas are full and thriving. Maybe we should rename our city Floundering Discount Heaven. We have been told that Olathe requested proposals for that intersection five years ago and that Wal-Mart was the only response. If we have waited five years, can't we wait a little longer until the right proposal comes along? With all the surrounding development, that corner will soon become a sought-after piece of property."

What you can do: One city official responded to Wal-Mart opponents by writing, "I agree that many of the consequences of this action could occur but I think they will occur regardless of what we do. Our shoppers are used to buying in big box stores and now appear to demand it. The responses I have been receiving are 8-1 in favor of the Wal-Mart. Unfortunately for many of us who enjoy the ambiance of small shops the reality appears to be that people want one stop shopping. After looking at everything my opinion is that this will be the only chance we will have to... satisfy the west side hunger for big box shopping and retain those sales taxes in Olathe. If we wait another six months there is a site in Lenexa that will be very appealing... Hopefully we will all be pleased in the end with the small retail that will spring up around this store as a result of the traffic, witness the small shops that have are now in existence around the Wal-Mart East." The fact is, this official has no hard economic analysis to go by, and is just hoping "we will all be pleased." This kind of uninformed, "regardless of what we do," attitude is what is ruining small town America. These local officials are not prepared to make big decisions on their future growth. They have neither the training nor the background to analyze complex proposals. They do not insist on independent studies. All the points raised by this official have nothing to do with whether or not it's a good land use decision to rezone land that was residential to commercial -- and throw in a tax break at the same time. The impact on surrounding land values, the impact on existing commercial properties -- it's all unexplored territory. The people want cheap Chinese underwear. For local contacts in Olathe fighting Wal-Mart, contact info@sprawl-busters.com














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

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