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2008-11-09
Greenville, NC. Wal-Mart Zoning Change Rejected

There were hugs and cheers this week in Greenville, North Carolina, as citizen pressure won out over the world's largest retailer. On October 22, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was pushing for a zoning change in Greenville. The city of Greenville has a population of just over 76,000 people -- certainly enough to satisfy one Wal-Mart superstore. The city already has a supercenter on Greenville Boulevard. Greenville is located on 35 square miles in the north central coastal plain region of Eastern North Carolina, approximately 85 miles east of Raleigh. The city says it is committed to "insuring a community of distinction for the future." Apparently, being saturated with Wal-Marts is considered a "distinction" in Greenville. In late October, the city's Planning and Zoning Commission agreed to a land-use change that could pave the way for another Wal-Mart Supercenter, this one at 10th Street and Port Terminal Road. A developer, WRS, was lobbying local officials hard for their retail extravaganza called the "Port Terminal Commons." Wal-Mart is the main anchor for the complex, which is located across the road from a Lowe's big box store. The only problem is: the land Wal-Mart wants is not designated for retail use. Neighbors have expected the land to be used for office/institutional/multi-family, medium density residential use, and for conservation/open space. The city's planning staff noted that the existing zoning designation allows for a buffer between intense commercial uses and the residential uses. There are several other more appropriate sites for a big box development, according to city staff. According to the Daily Reflector newspaper, the Planning Commission voted 6-2 to recommend that the City Council alter its existing land use plan to rezone a 52 acre parcel for commercial use. In voting for this zone change, the Planning Commission had to ignore and overturn the recommendation of the city's own planning staff. "It's not that there shouldn't be any development," said Chantae Gooby, the city's planner. "It's just a matter of scale." But a resident's group formed to fight the superstore. "This is just one little bump," said Marion Blackburn, one of the leaders of the River Hills neighborhood. The developer claims its project will result in 750 jobs for Greenville, and that noise and visual buffers would be built between the development and River Hills to lessen the impacts on residential properties. WRS claims that almost half of their land will be put into a conservation easement to prevent future development. But the fact remains, the land Wal-Mart wants is not properly zoned, and the city was under no obligation to change it for anyone -- even a big corporation. On November 6, 2008, the City Council shut down Wal-Mart's plans, by voting 4-2 to reject an amendment to the city's land-use plan. For now, it appears the Terminal Road process has been terminated -- in large measure due to activism from local residents. A Wal-Mart representative said the retailer still wants to open a second store in Greenville. "Wal-Mart would love to open a new store in Greenville," the spokesperson said. "We believe Wal-Mart would be a wonderful catalyst for the local economy by providing new jobs and opportunities for the citizens of Greenville. However, the city council has spoken and it's up to them and WRS to work out the future direction of this project." A representative from the developer told The Reflector, "I'm not so much frustrated as I am disappointed that our project is not going to be allowed to be developed in a manner that would be a wonderful gateway project for Greenville. What I believe you will have now is piecemeal development instead of architecturally unified development... I am sorry we weren't really able to tell the story of the pluses and positives of this project. I am sorry that didn't come across."

What you can do: Many nearby residents aren't sorry -- they're elated that the project was rejected. The members of the City Council who represented affected homeowners near this project could not support the Wal-Mart rezoning. According to the Reflector, Council members Larry Spell, Calvin Mercer, Mildred Council and Bryant Kittrell voted to deny the plan. More than 70 people showed up to oppose the plan, many from the River Hills housing subdivision, who are represented by Councilor Larry Spell. Spell was clearly influenced by the strong opposition to this project by his constituents. "It's a great plan," he told the developer, "but absolutely the wrong place. This is a major change to the (land-use) plan. This is not a tweaking." That sentiment was echoed by Council member Calvin Mercer, who also represents a residential neighborhood near the project. "What a slap in the face, less than a year after bringing (River Hills subdivision) into the city that we go and do this to their neighborhood." Mercer said rejecting Wal-Mart "was not a close call," because it violated the comprehensive land-use plan and went against the recommendation of City planning staff. "I have heard nothing close to a good reason for changing this plan," Mercer said. "We have (planners) on our payroll for a reason, and they are unbiased." Mercer admitted that "vigorous citizen opposition" had influenced his decision. One Councilor, Max Joyner, told neighbors the Wal-Mart plan was "a beautiful plan," and added: "If you don't want change, move out of Greenville or buy up all the land around you." But in the end, it was Wal-Mart that had to move. The president of the River Hills Neighborhood Association reminded elected officials : "This area was never intended for this level of commercial activity. There are other parcels the city's planning department has recommended to WRS. We are going to continue as a neighborhood, not just as a neighborhood, but a city, to stick together so we can make our own decisions about growth so we can protect our neighborhoods." Readers are urged to email City Councilor Max Joyner at max@maxjoynerjr.com with the following message: "Dear Councilor Joyner, Your comments to homeowners in Greenville that 'if you don't want change, move out of Greenville,' was pretty confrontational and inappropriate. Since when is change always appropriate? In this case, the change proposed was a dramatic switch in an existing land use plan -- one that would have adverse impacts on many residents. I hope in future votes you will support the homeowners in the River Hills neighborhood who correctly pointed out that the Port Terminal Road area is not properly zoned for a dense commercial development like the one planned by WRS. The people living in River Hills bought their homes relying on the fact that this land was not zoned for major retail. Big box stores and dense residential uses are not a compatible mix. There is no way you can buffer a Wal-Mart superstore from the neighbors. It would have changed the character of River Hills for decades to come. You already have a Wal-Mart supercenter in Greenville, and adding another one will bring little or no added value economically to Greenville, because most of its sales will come from the existing supercenter and local merchants. The Council is not required to give any developer a zone change, and must always weigh the welfare and safety of surrounding land uses in the process. Telling homeowners to move out of the city is just not a helpful option for an elected leader to make."










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

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