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2008-08-20
Liberty, Ohio. Wal-Mart Won’t Sign Agreement To Hire Local Workers

Roughly a month ago, on July 16, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was desperately trying to find some water for its proposed superstore on Belmont Avenue in the old Liberty Plaza in Liberty, Ohio -- but politics was keeping the tap shut. Liberty township's Administrator, Patrick Ungaro, told officials that Wal-Mart informed him in July that their superstore project is on ice over the issue of water. Delays on this project are not a new issue. Last year at this time, Wal-Mart indicated that they were putting the project on hold for its own internal reasons -- mainly due to a change in Wal-Mart's growth plans. The township was ready for the project last year. The fire department had approved plans to tear down the existing Liberty Plaza buildings. The only unhappy party was Forum Health -- which rented space in the Plaza that they didn't want to vacate. Forum Health, which used its rental space in the plaza for its finance department, held up the Wal-Mart project for months, because the health care company did not want to pay for moving costs. An agreement was eventually reached between Forum, the plaza's previous owners, and Wal-Mart. In July of 2007, Administrator Ungaro told the Vindicator newspaper, "The plans are approved. The land will be transferred and everything is ready to go." But now, more than a year later, no work has begun on the site. Wal-Mart told Liberty officials last month that unless the township and the city of Youngstown, Ohio agree to set up a Joint Economic Development District (JEED), which allows Youngstown to supply water to the Liberty Plaza site, the supercenter could be in trouble. A JEDD is an agreement between two communities to share services in exchange for compensation. Construction on the supercenter was slated to begin this summer. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the Times-Chronicle newspaper, "At this time, our plans are to continue to move forward with this project." Liberty township officials met with Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams last month to talk about setting up a JEED on a site near Liberty Plaza -- but not part of the Wal-Mart site. "We thought that would be a good idea for the developer of the property, the township and the city," Ungaro told the Chronicle. "Now, they also are talking about a JEDD on Belmont Avenue." The township thinks Youngstown has waded into water over its head, because the Liberty Plaza site already has waterlines, and Liberty sees no reason for the JEED there. All this has caused waves at the Trumbull County, Ohio level. County Commissioner Frank Fuda said that the Mayor of Youngstown did not have the legal right to stop a project in Trumbull county. "I don't think he can do that," Fuda told the Chronicle. "The waterline is already there. I question whether they can pick and choose who they deliver water to. Youngstown has been selling water to the plaza." Fuda has called in the county Prosecutor's Office to see how he can stop Mayor Williams from denying water toWal-Mart. "If they don't want to sell us water, we will get it from Girard or from Niles, Ohio," Fuda warned. "We are not going to allow Youngstown to stop progress in Trumbull County." For his part, Youngstown Mayor Williams says the whole controversy has bubbled over. "(Liberty officials) approached us two to three months ago about JEDD agreements on Gypsy Lane and the Wal-Mart site," Williams said. "Obviously, we were willing to work with them." But Liberty Trustees say they talked to Youngstown' finance director about establishing a JEDD. "Meetings with Youngstown were supposed to be exploratory only," the Trustees said. "To my knowledge, we, as a board, did not discuss a JEDD in connection with Belmont Avenue." This week, the ill-starred superstore ran into another problem. WYTV reports that Wal-Mart sent back the city of Youngstown's Water Tap application unsigned. Mayor Jay Williams told the TV station, "They deleted a portion that said twenty five percent of jobs should go to the city of Youngstown. They deleted a portion, saying they'd be responsible for water costs during construction." A Wal-Mart spokesman explained the company's actions by saying, "Simply put, our position is we want the most qualified people working in our store and these people will come from the city, township, and surrounding area." But the Mayor of Youngstown says the agreement he sent Wal-Mart in Liberty is the same one the city got signed by Wal-Mart in Austintown, and many other developers over the past two decades. "Wal-Mart decided to delete portions of the application and leave out portions of the application. We sent it back, telling them that was unacceptable," Mayor Jay Williams stated. Liberty township's Ungaro is in an uncomfortable position: he's the former Mayor of Youngstown, and now the town Administrator for Liberty. He helped write the Water Tap application that Wal-Mart now doesn't want to sign. "Here it is 2008 and they [Wal-Mart] don't like it," Ungaro said, siding with the retailer. "They've changed, and a lot of people changed over time, even corporations change. We gotta make it work. That's all."

What you can do: WYTV says this disagreement over the contract could leave the Wal-Mart site "bare for years." That's not likely to happen. But Liberty officials are upset that they don't have water for their Wal-Mart. "To see this happening now is upsetting to all of us," Liberty Trustee Jodi Stoyak said. He obviously hasn't talked to the neighbors, or the many small businesses in Liberty that will suffer if this store is built. "What's disturbing to me is that Mayor Williams said on record at our meeting he would not halt this project, yet it's halted," Stoyak complained. But Mayor Williams refuses to be the fall guy. He's just trying to secure "jobs" for his constituents. "This is the same application that's been used the last 20 years, even when Pat Ungaro was mayor. We have not changed it or modified it, and for Stoyak to say this is held by city of Youngstown, she is mistaken," Williams said. "It's imperative that this Wal-Mart starts for economic development," Stoyak pleaded, "because there are projects that are on hold and waiting for Wal-Mart to be built before they commit to coming to the township." The Trustee warned that if this does not get settled soon, Wal-Mart will just move on to another community, and it would take years to get the Liberty Plaza make-over started again. Mayor Jay Williams claims he never threatened to hold up the Wal-Mart project, and told WYTV that the water controversy is just a failure to communicate. Trustee Stoyak continues to charge that Youngstown is gumming up the works. "We certainly will do whatever we can in our power to make sure that Wal-Mart continues their project," she promised. When Stoyak ran for re-election in Liberty, she told voters, "The major issue in my race is bringing economic development to Liberty Township." She talks a lot about reducing the township's carbon emissions, and sustainable growth. Readers are urged to call Trustee Stoyak at (330)759-1315 x 122 and leave the following message: "Trustee Stoyak, Please don't describe Wal-Mart as a form of economic development. Most of its sales will come from existing businesses in town. Wal-Mart will increase your crime, your traffic, and your carbon emissions. You are concerned about sustainability, yet support a company that imports most of its wares by shipping and trucking them half way around the globe. Liberty would be better without a Wal-Mart superstore. All these delays and water problems are actually good news. You ran on a platform of economic development -- but this is economic dislocation. As a Trustee, you would do better to push for a cap on the size of retail buildings to prevent sprawl -- instead of cheereleading for Wal-Mart."










 
 
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