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2008-12-16
Summit, PA. Unbuilt Wal-Mart Displaces Mobile Home Park

Mobile home owners should be mobile. That seems to be the attitude at Wal-Mart. The retailer is not reluctant to build stores on the site of mobile home parks, on the theory that families living in those parks usually have no political clout or connections. That's the case in the township of Summit, Pennsylvania, where mobile home owners were evicted from their park, to make way for a Wal-Mart superstore that more than a year later has not been built. Summit is the smallest township in Erie County, Pennsylvania. As of 2007, the township had a population of less than 6,200 people. It's a township of 24 square miles, which describes itself as "an attractive mix of agricultural, residential, commercial, industrial and entertainment facilities." It has a Wal-Mart supercenter about 6.5 miles away in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and a second Wal-Mart supercenter in Connellsville, Pennsylvania 11 miles away. The township has a zoning ordinance "for the purpose of implementing the goals and policies of the Comprehensive Plan, to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of Summit Township, to safeguard and enhance the appearance and quality of township development, and to provide for the social, physical and economic advantages resulting from comprehensive and orderly planned use of land resources." Nevertheless, the township's zoning board in 2007 granted Wal-Mart and its developer several variances, including a reduction in the number of required parking spaces to make room for a garden center. To make way for this unnecessary Wal-Mart, the township allowed the landowner to force the mobile home owners in The Peachtree Place mobile home park to move. A Motel 6 on the proposed superstore site off Peach Street was also razed. According to the Erie Times-News, the mobile home owners were given $10,000 per family by the developer, Cullom Properties of Knoxville, Tennessee, to relocate. Cullom has developed a number of controversial Wal-Mart properties, including a Roanoke, Virginia store in the news this past year. After chasing out the mobile home owners, and tearing down the motel, the land has stood vacant for many months. No groundbreaking for the supercenter has begun. "We keep hearing that it is going to start, but it never does," said the owner of Big Woodie's Fire Works, a neighbor of the planned superstore. Summit township officials who allowed the mobile home park to be displaced, told the Erie Times-news that Cullom Properties has not forgotten Summit Township. "We haven't recorded the land development plan yet," said a spokesman in the Township's zoning office. Supervisors signed off on the project seven months ago, but Cullom has not arranged for bonding for the water and sewer line work that must be done at the site. The township wants Cullom to bond for this infrastructure work, so the township is not left with the cost of the work. In 2007, developers said they wanted to begin construction by the end of 2007 and have the store done by late 2008 or early 2009. Wal-Mart would not comment on the story, but township officials said the project might break ground this spring -- more than a year and a half behind schedule. The owner of Big Woodie's Fire Works is still excited. "It's coming in right behind us," he told the Times-News. "We think we will see an increase in business."

What you can do: The fact is, the small township of Summit does not need its own Wal-Mart supercenter. Despite Wal-Mart's insistence that it has stopped the policy of cannibalizing its own stores, putting up a new supercenter in Summit, only 6.5 miles from its store in Uniontown shows that the giant retailer is still wasting its resources on redundant stores in small markets. The people from Summit who are addicted to cheap Chinese imports, have two supercenters close by from which to choose. They really don't need another store. For the convenience of having another supercenter, the Peachtree Place mobile home park was destroyed, and the families who lived there had their lives disrupted. The developer gave them a $10,000 check as they forced them off the land -- but that hardly compensated them for the cost of moving their mobile home and finding a new location -- if they were able to relocate at all. Companies like Wal-Mart and Home Depot have displaced affordable housing sites like Peachtree Place, just to build another unnecessary store. Mobile home owners never have much status in their community, and town officials often have no hesitance about kicking such families out of their homes. Readers are urged to email Chris Gradler, Chairman of the Summit Township Board of Supervisors at: crgradler@summitpa.us with the following message: "Dear Chairman Gradler, Remember the folks who used to live at the Peachtree Place Mobile Home Park? Most people in Summit have probably forgotten Peachtree Place residents, or are glad to have that 'trailer park' gone for good. But I wonder what those people thought, whose lives were uprooted just to pave the way for another Wal-Mart supercenter in Summit? And what were township officials thinking? Are people in Summit so pampered that a six mile drive to Uniontown was just too much to get their fix of Chinese imports? Did anyone stop to assess the impact another Wal-Mart supercenter would have on existing grocery stores like Wegman's or Giant Eagle? Most of the sales at a new Wal-Mart in Summit will come from those existing grocery stores -- or from Wal-Mart's own supercenter in Uniontown. The Board of Supervisors put Wal-Mart ahead of the welfare of the people who were quietly living their lives in the Peachtree Place mobile home park. These folks were not as politically connected as Wal-Mart, but the supervisors have made a big mistake with this big superstore. The township and Erie County do not need another superstore, and people have been hurt to make it happen. Now you are waiting for the store to be built. Before construction starts, you would be well-advised to get Wal-Mart to sign a developer's agreement that requires them to put a demolition bond in escrow, anticipating the day that they will want to leave this superstore for another location. Summit will be left with a huge, empty superstore when Wal-Mart leaves -- and the lifespan for these stores is no more than 20 years. Don't compound your mistake by getting stuck with the cost of razing this new building that has not even been started yet. Wal-Mart arrives with its bags already packed. Don't let them leave you holding their baggage."










 
 
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