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2008-05-29
Carlsbad, CA. Wal-Mart Abandons Plans For Its ‘Upscale’ Store

They won't be selling expensive wine at the Wal-Mart in Carlsbad, California. In fact, they won't be selling anything. On March 17, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that the city council in Carlsbad had decided that big box stores were not worth pursuing. The city had been engaged in months of negotiations over whether or not to change its zoning code to allow in big stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot. The city council agreed March 15, 2005 to put on ice any plans to change the zoning to encourage superstores. The council voted unanimously not to study whether big boxes would benefit the city. According to the North County Times, Mayor Bud Lewis said that he saw no sense in studying the issue because he has no desire to alter the city's strict zoning regulations. Several other council members stated that voters didn't want any Wal-Marts coming to Carlsbad. Outside the city limits to the north and south there are several Wal-Marts and Home Depots. Current city zoning only allows big stores if they are part of a larger shopping center, not stand-alone stores. After a proposal for a free-standing Lowe's was submitted, the City Council directed planning staff to write an amendment to the city's general plan allowing free-standing big box stores in commercial and industrial areas. The proposed amendment failed to win support from the city's Planning Commission. At a July 7 meeting, the commission urged the council to study it. The council turned down the amendment March 15th. Then, on July 19, 2007, the story broke that Wal-Mart had purchased a 17-acre site at College Boulevard in Carlsbad, with plans to build "its most upscale store in the nation." The land transfer took place two months earlier, but finally leaked out. Carlsbad is known as the "village by the sea." The community has roughly 92,000 residents, plus thousands of tourists year round. Money magazine named Carlsbad one of the most desirable places to live in America. It's only 35 minutes to downtown San Diego, with Los Angeles and Tijuana, Mexico only one hour away. Carlsbad boasts of its natural landscapes and 7 miles of beautiful coastline. The city has green parks, graceful lagoons, and pristine sandy white beaches -- but no Wal-Marts. But there are plenty of existing Wal-Marts surrounding Carlsbad. A total of 6 Wal-Marts lie within 22 miles of Carlsbad, with three Wal-Mart discount stores in Oceanside, California alone, within 7 miles of Carlsbad. Carlsbad has attracted corporate headquarters for corporations like Jazzercise, Jenny Craig, the Gemological Institute of America, K2 Inc., Isis Pharmaceuticals, Invitrogen, and Sunrise Medical. Carlsbad is also home to more than 20 golf companies. "Apart from its picturesque scenery, coastal distinction, and high standard of living," the city's website says, "Carlsbad has truly become an economic jewel of San Diego County. Carlsbad has enjoyed a strong local economy for many years, much of which has come from industrial development." Into this unique environment, Wal-Mart offered a store its PR people called "an absolute paradigm shift." The retailer said it knew that people in Carlsbad did not want a typical big box store. "We believe the community of Carlsbad would say, 'That's not for us." A spokesman at Wal-Mart headquarters said the store would be "another example of our store of the community concept, not necessarily a new program... we're still working with the city to make sure the store works for the community. We take that approach with every store." But in the Carlsbad community, the city's zoning regulations would not allow a free-standing big box. Under Carlsbad zoning, a shopping center must serve the local community and must contain at least three retail establishments on the lot. City planners said the 17 acre parcel might allow for a "small" Wal-Mart, but not a large supercenter. The land is zoned correctly, but will need city approval because of size and design issues. Wal-Mart hyped the store, saying it would carry more expensive and upscale products than the typical Wal-Mart. A spokesman said the store would sell items and trinkets "unique to Carlsbad." The President of the Terraces at Sunny Creek Community Association, a 170-unit housing community in Carlsbad, located on the southwest corner of the site, told the media that the lot Wal-Mart purchased was supposed to be used for a "desirable mall with restaurants, boutiques and an anchor." It was owned by local developers who promised homeowners "a desirable, family-oriented shopping mall... They displayed nice drawings showing walkways, picturesque architecture." The Sunny Creek neighbors said they were dismayed when they found out the land had been sold to Wal-Mart. This week, roughly ten months after the Wal-Mart plan first arrived in the 'village by the sea,' the project has sunk below the waves. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Wal-Mart has decided not to build its new store -- making Carlsbad the 65th community to have a Wal-Mart project either cancelled or delayed since last June. Wal-Mart told city officials that they are going to sell their 17.6 acre site instead. The retailer said the fact that it was dropping this smaller, upscale store in Carlsbad did not mean it was going to abandon other similarly-sized upscale stores elsewhere. As always when announcing a pull out, Wal-Mart said their withdrawal had nothing to do with the intense opposition this project faced from the public. A company spokesman explained that Wal-Mart decided in October that it would lower its U.S. supercenter projects to 140 from 170 for the current year, and Carlsbad didn't make the cut. "Because we're going to more strategically prioritize the development of supercenters nationally, Carlsbad did not meet the financial hurdle that focused on growth in the future," the spokeman said. Homeowners at the Terraces at Sunny Creek, were delighted with the decision. The president of the Association told the Union-Tribune, it was "wonderful news... I'm just thankful for everyone that participated (in opposing the store) and letting Wal-Mart know we really weren't happy." One Carlsbad City Councilor told the newspaper she was confused by Wal-Mart's intentions to "sell $100 bottles of wine" in Carlsbad. "They stirred up our constituency and never filed an application" to develop, she said. "In the long run, I think it's a good thing," Carlsbad Mayor Bud Lewis said this week, after a meeting with Wal-Mart officials. Lewis pointed out that people who like to shop at Wal-Mart already have plenty of local options because of the company's other nearby stores. "We have said for a long time that those stores are good for other communities, but we didn't want them," the Mayor told the North County Times. The city's Planning Director added, "We felt it was going to be an uphill battle in terms of trying to make a Wal-Mart fit into that local shopping center zone."



What you can do: Carlsbad put its shopping center zoning requirements in place in the early 1990s, after a Price Club opened a massive warehouse store in the community. That store, which became a Costco, was one of the most controversial land use projects in the city, and triggered the zoning law that large stores must be part of a shopping center with multiple buildings, rather than a stand-alone store. The city has very few large tracts of land to house such shopping malls. One retail analyst told the Arkansas Morning news that the Wal-Mart project in Carlsbad would lead to a confrontation. "Costco is the only big-box store here now, and if it submitted plans today, it wouldn't pass. It's a very upscale community; houses start at half-a-million and go up. This whole coastal area is very upscale." Wal-Mart has not abandoned its dreams of serving an "upscale" customer. In August of 2006, Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott told shareholders, "Our new Plano, Texas Supercenter is teaching us a lot about appealing more to women and affluent customers... At our Plano store, our gross profit per linear foot is 24% higher than the average store." So whether Carlsbad was another pilot store, or not, local residents didn't want it. One day after the announcement that Wal-Mart had bought land in town, a Carlsbad resident sent the following comment to the North County Times: "Please Carlsbad council, don't reward the world's 'biggest bully' by allowing even a so-called 'high-end' Wal-Mart into town! That's like saying, we have rats in our garage, but that's OK, because they told us that they're high-end rats... " The 5- member City Council never had to vote on this issue. Readers are urged to contact Carlsbad Mayor Bud Lewis at 760-434-2830, or email the City Council by going to their website and sending them a comment: http://ci.carlsbad.ca.us/map/dir1.html. Tell them: "Thank you Mayor Lewis for speaking the plain truth about the proposed Wal-Mart on Sunny Creek. Carlsbad has plenty of Wal-Marts nearby, and your Village by the Sea does not need a Wal-Mart by the sea. There are already more Wal-Marts than consumers need in Oceanside. Your zoning ordinance helped discourage them from pushing a project that ultimately would never meet your local code. Your community is at least the 65th place this past year where a Wal-Mart project has been cancelled or delayed. The big winners here are the homeowners at Sunny Creek, who were promised a very different kind of development on that parcel. You should work to see that they get an appropriately-scaled project with the next proposal that comes along."










 
 
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