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2007-09-04
Florence, KY. Developer Says Wal-Mart Superstores Are Not Regional Facilities

Whatever it takes. That's what developer Mike Hargis is prepared to say and do in order to build a 184,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter on U.S. 42 and Weaver Road in Florence, Kentucky. When he learned that the Comprehensive Land Use Plan for Boone County says that, "Regionally oriented growth should be confined to Mall Road and Houston Road, and should not expand onto U.S. 42, Ky. 18 or Hopeful Church Road, " Hargis came up with an arbitrary definition of his own. He told city officials that anything 240,000 s.f. or more is regional. That means that Wal-Mart's 205,000 s.f. supercenter on Houston Road in Florence, just three miles away, is not a regional facility. But Boone County Planner Dave Geohegan says that regional means anything that draws from outside the immediate jurisdiction. Unfortunately for Hargis, two members of the Boone County Planning Commission zone change committee said that a supercenter is a regional development. "When you go to Wal-Mart you see (auto) tags from Ohio, Indiana and all over Kentucky," one commission member said. Attorney Kim Pramaggoire, who represents Boone County Residents for Responsible Growth, told the Commission, "On top of that, you have all the mom-and-pop stores that are going to be gobbled up by this regional store." But Wal-Mart officials kept saying a superstore is not regional. "The whole premise of this location is that it's more neighborhood-oriented," said one of Wal-Mart's engineers. The store would serve residents in west Florence, Union and areas to the south, so that those residents would not have to drive to the existing Wal-Mart superstore in Florence on Houston Road. When asked to define where its customers come from, Wal-Mart reportedly said it does not track its customer's addresses -- which may be technically correct. It tracks their zip codes instead, and anyone who's shopped at Wal-Mart and been asked their zip code knows that information is used by Wal-Mart to plan new stores -- except in Florence, Kentucky, where Wal-Mart has no idea where its customers come from. The Houston Road Wal-Mart is "overshopped," a Wal-Mart spokesman said. Wal-Mart wants to build its new store where a warehouse burned down in 2004. "I look at this as infill," one commission member told the Kentucky Enquirer, "because there was a building there that burned down and we are using that space." A planner hired by the Boone County Residents for Responsible Growth, did his own study of shoppers at the existing Houston Road Wal-Mart. According to the citizen's group, which opposes the store, their planner went to the superstore parking lot on three occasions and counted more than 600 vehicles. Less than half of the cars -- 39% - were from Boone County. The next highest concentration was Kenton County at 23%, 11% from other Kentucky counties, and 10% from undesignated Kentucky counties. There were cars from 19 other states including 5% from Ohio and 3% from Indiana. Vehicles were there from Alaska, California, Texas and Oklahoma. The Boone County RRG says the survey proves that Wal-Mart supercenters are regional and not "neighborhood-oriented" as Wal-Mart's representatives had claimed the new store would be. At a meeting on August 22nd, Wal-Mart turned its focus on traffic, and said it would spend $1.5 million to fix any existing traffic problems. Here again, developer Hargis made lemonaide out of lemons. "If this project goes away then none of the road improvements will be made," he said. But the developer admitted that the state's taxpayers will have to chip in for the largest traffic problem on the site -- adding two left turn lanes at the entryway to the store. Boone County RRG said Wal-Mart's traffic estimates keep changing. "It's like hitting a moving target," the group said. "The traffic study has been changed three times already."

What you can do: In addition to the 184,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter, the developer wants to build two 8,000 s.f. "quality restaurants", a 3,000 s.f. fast-food restaurant, and a 10,000 s.f. retail center. The project is before the zone change committee because the land currently is zoned industrial, and needs to be changed to commercial if Wal-Mart is to build. Any project seeking a zone change has no entitlement to a rezoning. This is a discretionary act that the Planning Commission can reject. Wal-Mart cannot use this land "as of right," but must first get the land rezoned. This is the opponents strongest moment -- to challenge the rezoning -- in light of the fact that the city's Master Plan clearly says "regionally-oriented growth" should not be allowed at this location. A Wal-Mart supercenter needs at least 50,000 customers to survive. Florence has roughly 27,000 people -- and it already has a bigger Wal-Mart superstore. So this project is not being built to accommodate population growth, but to gain more market share for Wal-Mart. Readers are urged to call the Boone County, Kentucky Planning Commission at 859-334-2196, or email them at: plancom@boonecountyky.org. Tell them: "The one Wal-Mart supercenter that Florence has on Houston Road is one more than enough. The Comprehensive Plan clearly says no more expansion of retail growth on U.S. 42. A supercenter is not a neighborhood store -- it's a huge, retail killer -- and Florence doesn't need more of that. Better leave this land industrial, and try to attract some decent-paying jobs instead."










 
 
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