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2008-10-30
Greenville County, SC. Wal-Mart Opens After Two Years of Legal Battles

There was a time in America when Wal-Mart could expect a two or three month review process for its new store permitting. But those days are gone. Even in the deep South, Wal-Mart is encountering citizen opposition as soon as the shadow of a Wal-Mart store appears. Wal-Mart opened up another superstore this week in Greenville County, South Carolina -- but it took two years and two lawsuits to get it done. Their new store opened over the vigorous objections of local homeowners, who were brow-beaten and intimidated by the developer's legal team. The story begins in November of 2006, when residents in Greenville County approached their County Council, urging their elected officials to pass a zone change to prevent the possible development of a Wal-Mart superstore near the intersection of Pelham Road and Interstate 85. The Greenville County Planning Commission had already rejected the initial rezoning request of a developer who wanted to put a SuperTarget store near the same intersection. Greenville is saturated with big box stores. Wal-Mart has a supestore on White Horse Road on the west side of the city, and another superstore on Woodruff Road on the east side. These two supercenters are just miles from the Pelham Road site of the third Wal-Mart superstore. Homeowners at Thornblade, a high-end housing development near the Pelham/I-85 intersection, wanted the Council to rescind a 2003 zoning change that opened the lid for "big-box" retail development along Pelham Road. Homeowners said at the time that they were considering filing a lawsuit against the Wal-Mart project. Wal-Mart in 2006 would not disclose its interest in the Pelham Road site, but neighbors knew better. The head of the Thornblade Association told the Council that "the infrastructure of the roads is inadequate to support the traffic volume that would be generated by a Wal-Mart. This is not about commercialism, and it's not about Wal-Mart. It's simply about good planning and good community development." Homeowners in a second residential development, Sugar Creek, also objected to the plan. "This is just poor planning," one Sugar Creek resident testified. "Unfortunately, I think the dollar drives developers more than common sense sometimes." County Councilman Jim Burns, whose district includes the Wal-Mart 16-acre site, said he had received more than 300 e-mails from residents opposed to big-box development on the property. About five e-mails supported the development, he said. Burns proposed three planning measures to the Council: one would set standards for big-box retailers, while the others would mandate traffic impact studies and street connectivity standards. "It's things that we need to do, that we should have done a long time ago," Burns admitted. The proposed Wal-Mart would have had a Super Target across Route 85, but the Planning Commission rejected the site because it was zoned for industrial use, and because of traffic issues. Target wanted to build a 175,000-s.f. Super Target on the site. The next month, in December of 2006, Greenville residents ended up booing their Council when the group refused to vote on a motion from Jim Burns to impose a temporary moratorium on big box stores, which Burns defined as being 40,000 sf. or larger. Burns asked the County Council to enact a three month moratorium on permits and approval for new "big box" stores so the Council could put together new regulations to control sprawl. But the Council had to vote to suspend its rules to entertain Burns' moratorium -- and there was no second to the motion, and the matter died without discussion. In January of 2007, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the homeowners and residents of the Pelham-Greer area, which charged that the County Council had deprived the citizens of Greenville County due process in denying a proposal for a three month moratorium. The suit claimed that hours before the meeting was to begin, the developer's lawyer delivered a letter to county officials saying that the developer intended to purchase the site for the purpose of constructing a big-box retail development, and that the proposed 90-day moratorium was unconstitutional. The lawsuit charged that the county called a special executive session that lasted about half an hour, and then returned to regular session, but a vote on the moratorium was never taken. In the spring of 2007, a neighborhood group called the Pelham Corridor Property Owners' Alliance filed a second lawsuit. The group said it was formed "to further address the zoning issues related to the approximately 16 acres of property near Pelham Road and The Parkway. The group believes that the current zoning (C2 - "big box commercial development") could possibly permit commercial development which is inappropriate for this particular property." The PCPOA filed lawsuits against the South Carolina Department of Transportation and the Department of Health and Environmental Control to stop the proposed Wal-Mart. The lawsuit tried to force the hand of the DOT and the DHEC to study the potential impacts on traffic and the environment. But that lawsuit was dismissed when the group decided not to pursue the case -- intimidated by the threat of a counter-suit by the developer. After all this legal maneuvering and protests, the Wal-Mart supercenter on Pelham Road opened this week, and Wal-Mart told the media their third supercenter in this city of 59,000 people, would have a "local market feel."

What you can do: The Greenville Chamber of Commerce told Channel 4 WYFF that his business group was "excited about the jobs the new Wal-Mart store is providing and the investment that is being made in the community there on the east side of Greenville." Unfortunately, the smaller merchants in the Chamber of Commerce were probably not too happy with this statement. This latest superstore addition brings no added value to the east side -- or any side -- of Greenville. The trade area is saturated, and Wal-Mart sales will largely be drawn from existing merchants -- including the company's two nearby superstores. Despite Wal-Mart's insistence that it wants to avoid cannibalizing its existing stores, Greenville is a poster child for the over-building of superstores. Three superstores for a population of 59,000 people is a recipe for cannibals. Readers are urged to email County Councilor Jim Burns at: Jburns@greenvillecounty.org with the following message: "Dear Councilor Burns, You were right to respond to the concerns of homeowners in your district two years ago when they supported your moratorium on big box stores. Let the new Wal-Mart on Pelham Road be a daily reminder to you that your proposed zoning changes from 2006 are needed now more than ever. Greenville could stop this suburban sprawl that is eating up land and your business community, by placing a cap on the size of retail stores. Residents were intimidated by the developer's lawyers -- but the Council now has a clear shot at enacting a zoning code that gives you the tools you need to control sprawl. Greenville County has two choices: lead growth, or follow it. Right now developers are leading the way. But the county should get out in front on this issue, and limit the size of superstore sprawl."










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

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