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2007-10-13
Sherwood, AR. Neighbors Find Living Next To Wal-Mart Like A Living Hell

Do good walls make good neighbors? Mayor Virginia Hillman of Sherwood, Arkansas must be feeling somewhat embattled this month. Hillman describes the town she lives in as a rapidly growing community of 23,100 people located just a few miles north of Little Rock. She says Sherwood was rated by the Wall Street Journal as "one of the ten best cities in the United States in which to live." But that was prior to the latest Wal-Mart controversy. The Mayor says Sherwood offers "a hometown atmosphere" with the "amenities of a larger metropolitan area." One of those amenities has to be the ten Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Sherwood, including a Wal-Mart supercenter on East Mccain Boulevard just two miles away. When Wal-Mart proposed adding yet another 200,000 s.f. supercenter to the area -- this time in Virginia Hillman's town -- no one in town government raised a finger to object. But now some of the residents of Sherwood may feel their "hometown atmosphere" has disappeared. Several weeks ago, Wal-Mart held a public meeting with neighborhoods which will lie near the company's supercenter location. According to the Sherwood Voice newspaper, tensions were high between Wal-Mart and the 60 people in the audience "who complained about ponding water, mosquitos, months of loud dynamite blasts, the frequent sounds of rock cracking and smashing machines, clouds of dust, films of dust on their cars, shrinking property values, and houses for sale in their neighborhood that aren't selling." Like most communities that realize the truth about living next to a supercenter too late, these small town Arkansas residents only wanted to talk about the 12 foot wall they want Wal-Mart to build. "If you put up a wall then that will satisfy us," said one Katye Lane resident. But Wal-Mart's spokesperson was scripted to give residents the bad news: her company studied the cost of erecting such a wall, and concluded it would be too expensive and would make the Supercenter a less profitable operation. The spokesperson refused to tell neighbors how much such a wall would cost, dismissing the subject by saying, "Every (Wal-Mart) has to be able to support itself." To build at this site, Wal-Mart has spent months blasting away at rocks. The retailer's engineering firm admitted that they ran into more rock at the site than they anticipated, which resulted in added costs to the project. Neighbors insisted that they wanted a wall to keep criminals running away from the Wal-Mart from cutting through their backyards to get away from the police. Residents referred to an incident recently when a gunman opened fire at the McCain Mall store in North Little Rock, just minutes from this site. Wal-Mart's representative told neighbors he had "never seen an instance in his 20 years at Wal-Mart where someone opened fire in a Wal-Mart parking lot." Finally, out of exasperation, the Wal-Mart official placated the neighbors by offering to ask his company if money from some parts of the supercenter project could be transferred to pay for a wall. He noted that Wal-Mart had invested a lot of money in the supercenter's exterior -- that residents requested last fall when Wal-Mart was asked to make the facade more aesthetically pleasing. "If a wall is more important to the people in this room, we can see what we can do," the Wal-Mart representative said. Residents also said they were worried that ponding water on the site would lead to the spread of mosquito-related diseases such as the West Nile Virus. But Wal-Mart blamed the federal government for ponding areas, to keep stormwater runoff from flowing too quickly off the site. "At this point, our hands are tied due to EPA regulations," Wal-Mart's engineer said. Apart from the wall debate, the neighborhoods are now plagued by another problem, equally ignored by town officials: homeowners are trying to sell out of the neighborhood. A growing number of "for-sale" signs have sprouted up, according to the editor of the local newspaper. Eight homes in the Kayte Lane-Tiffany Circle neighborhood, abutting the supercenter construction site, are now up for sale. Now that they have watched their 47 acres of woodlands disappear, one resident admitted their properties have gone "from best to worst." At the public hearing held by Wal-Mart, neighbors said that conditions have been so unbearable that they put their homes up for sale. One neighbor at some distance from the site said that blasting was so loud that it had shaken his windows. Another resident was especially irate because the supercenter is the cause of two people backing out of buying her house. "One of my neighbors was ready to close on selling her home," a neighbor said. "Someone came by and said they wanted to buy the property when work on the supercenter just got started. When they had returned some time later, a lot of work on the supercenter had taken place. When they (the buyers) saw all the work being done, they asked what was going up there. They were told a supercenter. They changed their mind."

What you can do: Even if residents in Sherwood, Arkansas get their 12 foot wall, they will always know what's on the other side. They will also find that the wall does not substantially reduce the noise impacts associated with the superstore. Local officials, real estate agents, and Wal-Mart, categorically deny that huge supercenters bring down the value of nearby residential property, and the town of Sherwood in no exception. The local newspaper interviewed one realtor from North Little Rock, who has two houses listed for sale in the neighborhood. He told the Sherwood Voice that he's seen controversial issues similar to the Wal-Mart supercenter come up, where neighbors worry about declining property values. "This isn't going to reduce property values," the realtor stated. "For some people, it is going to be an added convenience that the supercenter is so close to the neighborhood." The real estate agent said he has been in the real estate business for 19 years and in his experience, the frustration will eventually subside. Tell that to the residents of Sherwood who now feel trapped in their homes, while Wal-Mart construction destroys their quality of life. It's a matter of common sense that most homebuyers would rather live next to 47 acres of wooded land and nature trails, than 47 acres of concrete and asphalt, where the only "trails" are in between the houseware and electronics aisles. In Lake Charles, Louisiana, Sprawl-Busters reviewed the case of a residential abuttor to a Wal-Mart supercenter whose property dropped 27.8% in the first four years after the supercenter opened. In one year, the Lake Charles assessors wrote a note on the back of the homeowner's file: "10% reduction -- backs up to new Wal-Mart." It is also truly remarkable that Wal-Mart's representative would tell residents with a straight face that he had never heard, "in his 20 years at Wal-Mart where someone opened fire in a Wal-Mart parking lot." Aside from current war zones, Wal-Mart parking lots have one of the worst crime records in America. To see the Lake Charles property tax study, email info@sprawl-busters.com










 
 
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