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2007-12-15
Frostburg, MD. Wal-Mart Bargaining With State Upsets Local Residents

Frostburg, Maryland describes itself as "an Historic Main Street community with many turn of the century homes." The city is a Maryland "Main Street" designated community, and has a land use plan that speaks to many of the "respected Smart Growth planning principles" in Maryland, which emphasize concentrating growth on land containing existing infrastructure. Frostburg's population declined by 385 persons (4.7%) from April 2000 to July 2006. The city had 7,865 residents in 2006, only 206 people higher than in 1940. So there is no expanding population base to warrant a flood of new retail capacity. The city says it wants to support development in areas where infrastructure exists, and save taxpayers from the high cost of building infrastructure to serve development that has spread far from traditional population centers. Yet all the rhetoric about compact building design, walkable communities, and preserving open space, goes out the window when the same officials receive a Wal-Mart application. The Cumberland Times-News reports this week that state highway officials and Wal-Mart are deep into discussions over the nature of road improvements that a new supercenter in Frostburg will require. But the giant retailer denies it has any "solidified" plan for the city, and no application has been filed. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the Times-News,
"We are interested in the Frostburg area and believe there is a customer base to support a store there, but nothing is solidified." A State Highway Spokesman said that they want Wal-Mart to pay for construction of a roundabout at the entrance to the store. Wal-Mart wants just an entrance with a traffic signal. Wal-Mart approached the state's Department of Business and Economic Development also, but that department agreed with the SHA that a roundabout was needed. Wal-Mart will have to pay for the road upgrades needed to accommodate their store, and the roundabout is a more expensive proposition, so the retailer is trying to get around the roundabout. Wal-Mart has chosen to deal with state officials first, before formally approaching the city. But the word is spreading in Frostburg that Wal-Mart wants in. There is already a Wal-Mart supercenter in LaVale, Maryland less than five miles away. In a recent letter to the editor, one resident summed up the concerns of other Wal-Mart opponents: "Frostburg is one of the few Main Street towns remaining in Western Maryland. It has a certain aesthetic appeal due to its small town charm and simplistic style. As a quaint town it offers an escape from the fast paced way of life encountered in many areas nowadays. It would be a shame to see the aesthetic appeal of Frostburg reduced to a desolate ghost town filled with the boarded up store fronts of a once thriving business district... this is a prevailing consequence associated with the opening of Wal-Mart centers. Downtowns are reduced to empty shells as generations-old family businesses are shutdown and boarded up due to their inability to compete with a conglomerate that is fueled by slave like manufacturing, sub-par employee packages and the purchasing power to control its suppliers by setting its own prices. I can't help but think that this may be the effect that the opening of a Wal-Mart in Frostburg will have on the community. Is this a chance that the people of Frostburg are willing to take just so they can buy a dozen tube socks for $2?"

What you can do: In its land use Plan, the city says that "Frostburg has a small but significant downtown, with many buildings developed in the latter half of the 19th century during the coal boom. As a Main Street Community, Frostburg has created an independent Frostburg First entity to promote and support the redevelopment and marketing of downtown. While the historical value of the buildings, which are contained in a National Register Historic District, cannot be questioned, the investment needed to maintain these aging structures is a major constraint. Downtown property owners will need financial assistance for the immediate future as well as key public supporting investments to build and sustain a customer base... Trends in community development indicate that interest is picking up in historic shopping districts, and more persons may be willing to sacrifice convenient and "free" vehicle parking for this experience. Interest in alternatives to driving to massive markets and big box stores, and renewed interest in dining and entertainment can help build momentum." The city's Plan actually identifies one growth issue that specifically mentions Wal-Mart: "Issue: As energy prices increase, fewer customers will be able to travel the additional miles to LaVale for goods and services, which will present new opportunities for both downtown and highway commercial locations. The concept of Wal-Mart proposing a second location within 6 miles is likely based on the premise that they need to be located closer to customers to foreclose competition." Frostburg has to act quickly if it wants to prevent a head-on collision between its Smart Growth principles and big box highway sprawl. Frostburg Mayor Arthur Bond needs to hear from you. He can be reached at 301-689-6000, or by email at: frostburgcity@allconet.org. Tell the Mayor, "Frostburg does not need another Wal-Mart 5 miles from an existing supercenter. Your population base is not much higher than it was in 1940 -- and a supercenter will set back your goals for a real, working downtown. You can't marry Main Street with Wal-Mart. It's not compatible with your Smart Growth principles. The traffic and the crime will drive up your city costs, and existing businesses in Frostburg will suffer. Now is the time to pass a zoning ordinance capping the size of retail businesses. Do it before Wal-Mart submits an application."










 
 
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