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2009-04-09
Ruckersville, VA. County Urges Wal-Mart To Hurry Up And Build

On August 23, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that a planned Wal-Mart superstore in the tiny town of Ruckersville, Virginia had hit the Wal. Ruckersville, Virginia is an unincorporated community in Greene County, Virginia located in a rural area just a few miles north of Charlottesville. The community lies amidst hills, mountain views, trees, and farmland. The entire population of Greene County in 2008 was 17,964 people. There's a Wal-Mart store 11 miles away in Charlottesville, and the nearest Wal-Mart superstore is 27 miles northeast in Culpeper. Back in March of 2008, site preparation work was well underway at the "Gateway Center" project in Ruckersville. The Center was going to be anchored by a 153,000 s.f. Wal-Mart and a Lowe's. Some of Greene County's smaller business were nervous about the superstore's arrival. The Chairman of Greene's Board of Supervisors, Steve Catalano, told the Record newspaper that there are some small businesses in the County that "could be vulnerable" to bigger businesses. "I'm a little scared," the owner of the Great Valu grocery store in nearby Stanardsville told the newspaper. "But regardless as to whether it's coming or not, we have to put our best foot forward. Everybody that walks in here knows everybody; that is distinct from the big market people. We're going to be putting our best foot forward; focusing on customer service." The Food Lion grocery store in Ruckersville has invested $2 million in renovations. All of these merchants took a deep breath of relief when it was announced last August that the Ruckersville Wal-Mart was on hold for at least a year. New construction was supposed to start in the spring of 2008, with an opening in late 2009. But a Wal-Mart spokesman said that construction would not begin until the spring of 2009, with an opening in the spring of 2010. "Wal-Mart has been revaluating our U.S. stores' growth strategy over the past year, decreasing the number of Supercenters we open in the US over the next three years," a company spokesman said. "This shift has moved the scheduled grand opening of hundreds of proposed Supercenters across the nation, including the Ruckersville Wal-Mart, which is now scheduled to open in spring 2010. We are still looking forward to serving our Greene County customers and bringing services and tax dollars to the area." In February of 2009, the news got even worse. Wal-Mart told the county that the corporation was going to delay its planned store yet again for at least a year. The grand opening of the store would not take place until 2011. Wal-Mart said it was "in the process of internally determining the timetable for the project to move forward, with no formal date to share." The county was unwilling to accept that 'bad news,' and decided it needed to sell itself harder to Wal-Mart. According to the Record newspaper, county officials mounted a coordinated effort to show Wal-Mart why it was not just best for Greene County -- but best for them -- to build in Ruckersville as soon as possible. "We drafted a document to let them know why they needed to come and (to remind them) of the commitment that already had been made," the county's Economic Developer told the newspaper. "We all came together and were able to put together a tight document. A lot of work went into it." The county's proposal was sent to Eric Zorn, head of Wal-Mart's real estate operations. All this hand waving apparently caught the attention of the corporation, which is used to fighting its way into town. On April 9th, Wal-Mart officials came to town bearing plans for a Ruckersville superstore that increases the footprint by another 7,000 s.f., to make the store 160,000 s.f. The retailer says that Greene county is one of the top 25 projects. "That is huge for the county," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Catalano. "I feel confident that Wal-Mart will start construction in the near future. The county, and the demographics of the region fit within their business model, and Wal-Mart will be well placed with the Ruckersville store to attract customers both within and outside the county's borders." Wal-Mart has already spent $7.4 million to buy the 20 acres of land needed to build the store. The county's Economic Developer told the Record, "I wanted to send a voice from our community to make them know who we are."

What you can do: Wal-Mart already knows who they are in Greene county. Local officials promoted themselves as an "underserved" area, where Wal-Mart would find little-to-no competition. That is certain to be the end result of this decision. "I wanted to remind them that we are an underserved (retail market)," the county's Economic Developer added. The Gateway Center project is near the US 33 and 29 intersection, one of the worst intersections in Greene County. Greene describes itself as a "small, rural county in the Piedmont region of Central Virginia... Blessed with the scenic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west." Greene County has a Comprehensive Plan which encourages business and industrial development while protecting the County's rural beauty. "Greene County is blessed with a bounty of natural attractions and its mountainous, rural and agricultural character," the Comp Plan says. "These features should be promoted in a dedicated county effort to foster tourism.". Like many rural communities, Greene county is searching for ways to enhance its tourist appeal. On the one hand, the county says: "Scenic mountain/farm views, forests, open space and fields, clean water and air, wildlife, bio-diversity and a rural night sky are natural treasures available to the citizens of Greene. Their value is often not recognized until overwhelmed by growth or by allowing development that adversely impacts one or more elements." On the other hand, the County approves a "gateway" project based on two sprawling big box stores. Greene county has doubled its population since 1981, but its overall population is still quite small. "As a county, we must encourage economic development," the Comprehensive Plan says, "but as a community, we must ensure that the economic development supports our objectives and preserves our values." The Plan says that commercial development "must add economic value to the community, be consistent with the County's Comprehensive Plan and contribute to Greene County's future." A Wal-Mart superstore adds little value -- because most of its sales will come from the local grocery store, the local hardware store, other area merchants, and the Wal-Mart in Charlottsville. The Greene Plan even says, "Greene has avoided becoming a sprawling, unplanned bedroom suburb... Greene's growth has become digestible and affordable." But the Gateway Center will change all that. The primary commercial growth area for Greene County is Ruckersville, due mainly to the fact that Routes 29 and 33 run through the area. As it encompasses the most heavily traveled highways in the County and will be the largest town center, this area will be of greatest concern for traffic congestion. Yet the County has approved two large, automobile-oriented boxes right at that intersection. The Plan says the County is supposed to "Promote efforts to reduce traffic... encouraging commercial and residential developers to include pedestrian and bicycle lanes in all site plans." Readers are urged to email the Chairman of the Greene County Board of Supervisors, Steve Catalano, at scatalano@gcva.us. Catalano was the Vice Chairman of the committee that wrote the Comprehensive Plan. Send Supevisor Calano this message: "Dear Chairman Catalano, the Gateway Center project, with its Lowe's and Wal-Mart big box anchors, is incompatible in so many ways with the County's Comprehensive Plan that you helped write. It says in that plan that the County should "Screen target business segments against overall attractiveness and fit with Greene County strengths to identify focus for marketing efforts." A Wal-Mart three times the size of a football field does not fit into tiny Ruckersville. Your goal of maintaining "smooth traffic flow through Ruckersville" will be shot, and the goal of limiting new traffic signals along Route 29 and 33 will also be blown. You boast that the County has avoided becoming a sprawling, unplanned bedroom suburb -- but then you approve a huge suburban style mall. This is not digestible growth. This will only hurt area merchants, drive up crime and traffic, and turn off tourists who already have plenty of Wal-Marts where they come from. One of the best things that has happened to Ruckersville was the announcement that Wal-Mart's project was delayed. Now, despite the concerns that small businesses in the county will pay the price -- the county has begged Wal-Mart to come. It's time for Greene County to think Green, and put a size cap on retail buildings of 60,000 s.f. Any retailer can build a store that fits into such a cap, and by doing so, better fit into the goals of your Comprehensive Plan. As it stands now, this project adds little economic value to Ruckersville, and will be one of the biggest land use mistakes in the county's long history. You have just hastened the destruction of your small, middle-class merchant, and gone out of your way to do it."










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

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