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2008-06-26
Lady’s Island, S.C. City Gives Preliminary Approval To Limit Location of Big Box Stores

On June 19, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had decided not to pave over wetlands in Lady's Island, South Carolina. Wal-Mart had applied for a permit to build a 195,000 s.f. store, plus two other retail stores, and a fast-food restaurant -- all on 26 acres of wooded land. Lady's Island lies within the city limits of Beaufort, South Carolina, which boasts of its "Landmark Historic District," its "horse-drawn carriage" tours, its "unique, fully restored central business district filled with shops and restaurants, all within walking distance of beautiful downtown inns and hotels." In short, it's a charming "low country" southern town just minutes from the beaches of Hilton Head. As the city says, "Beaufort has it all!" There are also three Wal-Marts within 20 miles of Beaufort, including a supercenter on Robert Smalls Parkway in Beaufort. The city says its concerned with "the preservation of open space, particularly Beaufort's waterfront viewshed," and has adopted an Open Space Master Plan. The City Council has directed staff to identify "those economic sectors that will increase wage levels, provide training in desirable skills, and diversify the economic base of the City." In March of 2008, the Beaufort Zoning Board of Appeals voted against the proposed second Wal-Mart supercenter. Wal-Mart's lawyer told the Beaufort Gazette that his client was fighting "an entrenched anti-Wal-Mart sentiment." "It looks like the odds are stacked against me," the lawyer admitted. Wal-Mart complained that this project had begun with meetings with Beaufort officials back in October of 2007, and that the city's objection to the plan "came out of nowhere." The executive director of the Historic Beaufort Foundation testified that Wal-Mart was incompatible with Beaufort's aesthetics. "Show me a Wal-Mart that will fit the architecture of our small town," Thompson said. "You won't find it." Wal-Mart had until May 30, 2008 to challenge the zoning board's decision to Circuit Court -- but they chose not to appeal. Wal-Mart shortly afterwards announced that it was withdrawing its application to fill in a third of an acre of wetlands on Lady's Island, effectively ending the project. This week, roughly 7 days after Wal-Mart pulled out, the City Council has adopted a new big box zoning ordinance, on a 5-0 vote, that would restrict the size of superstores -- except in two highway commercial zones. Store bigger than 70,000 s.f. could only be located in Beaufort along Route 170 and 280. Big box stores would also be prohibited from locating in marshfront or waterfront property, and would have to maintain a 50 foot setback from all streets, according to the Beaufort Gazette. A proposal to ban any kind of chain store in the city's historic downtown was not adopted. The Council's vote now has to be voted one final time in July to become final. The Historic Beaufort Foundation, argued for the ordinance to limit store size as well as location. Beaufort already has a huge, 215,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter. One Council member agreed that in the permitted zones, a size cap should also be imposed. "Who knew 20 years ago that we'd be where we are now in terms of size across the city," the Councilor said. "I could conceive of a mega-giant store on 170 (in the future)." During the City Council hearing, one business property owner told city officials, "It's the mob, the hypocritical elitists who just want to look at pretty things, who don't care about people having to spend (extra) gas to go to (a chain store)."


What you can do: The second superstore project in Beaufort had been in process for almost ten months. Wal-Mart formally filed its plans for the site in January, 2008. Beaufort's planning director rejected the proposal, arguing that the plan was incompatible with the site's master plan, dating back to 2003. It was clear from local response that not a single member of the zoning board wanted a huge superstore on Lady's Island. Wal-Mart tried to argue that the city's illustrative plan for the site was just a guideline -- but the huge store Wal-Mart proposed completely ignored the city's choice for that site, and did so at its own peril. Readers are urged to call Beaufort Mayor Bill Rauch at (843) 524-1234. Tell Mayor Rauch: "Big box stores in Beaufort are not a form of economic development, because Wal-Mart will largely drain jobs from existing merchants. The one Wal-Mart supercenter in Beaufort is one more than enough. The city needs to balance its retail development to ensure that the market is not dominated by national chains. When the City Council meets again on July 15th, I hope you will vote a second time to pass the big box ordinance. But if you are going to allow large scale retail along Routes 170 and 280, at least follow the suggestion of the Historic Beaufort Foundation to put a cap -- 85,000 s.f. would be reasonable -- in those zones. Wal-Mart and other retailers are now building smaller stores. The retailer said this week that it was considering smaller stores across the country. Without a cap, your highways are going to become the major focus for retail activity in Beaufort, which will not help your downtown or other business areas, and will contribute to the perception that Beaufort is just another city with roadside sprawl."










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

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