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2009-12-15
Santa Rosa Beach, FL. Wal-Mart Proposes “Small” Supercenter For The Beach

Sun worshippers are not the only ones attracted to the small towns along the Florida panhandle. Wal-Mart has been here for years, soaking up the sun -- and the dollars of area shoppers. The latest little community dealing with a big store is the town of Santa Rosa Beach. This region already has plenty of superstores that have washed up on shore, like the Wal-Mart supercenter 13 miles west of Santa Rosa Beach in Destin, or the supercenter 22 miles north in De Funiak Springs. To the south are 3 Wal-Mart supercenters in Panama City, Lynn Haven and Callaway. The entire population of Walton County is roughly 54,000, but Wal-Mart stores are strung like gaudy Christmas lights along the coastal panhandle. Roughly a week ago, news slipped out that Wal-Mart had submitted plans for a 78,290 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter along Highway 98, a road which already has Wal-Mart superstores in Navarre, Ft. Walton Beach, and Destin. The director of development services for Walton County, which will approve or deny the plan, told the Walton Sun newspaper that one county board has already begun reviewing the plan. "They're in the application process right now," said the county official. The county's Design Review Board met with Wal-Mart officials, and approved the site plan for the project -- objecting only to the size of the lettering on the building. "The lettering on the building is a lot larger than what we normally allow," the DRB told the Sun. "They either need to get that request approved or they're going to have to downsize it." But for many local residents in this small, historic community, they need to downsize the whole building, or remove the project entirely. The town uses its beach location to attract tourists looking for pristine beaches and coastal dunes. Santa Rosa Beach offers several entrances to the Point Washington State Forest, a 15,000 acres preserve with ten miles of trails. As one tourist publication says, "Florida's 'hidden coast,' Northwest Florida is emerging as a major contender for the state's valuable tourism and destination meetings dollars." It is those same dollars that have attracted Wal-Mart to propose the "small" version of its superstore. "I am horrified!" one small-business owner told the newspaper. "The proposed site is just around the corner from my house. I can only imagine what this will mean for property values, traffic and loss of business for smaller businesses. I wish we could do something about it. It's just awful." "What sets us apart as a desirable location is that we do not ascribe to Destin's and Panama City's 'big box' trend, where there is loss of local unique enterprises," said one local resident. "In the long run, another 'Wallymart' would decrease local employers, jobs and lower property values for those in proximity." "I am not thrilled with the idea," said another local. "South Walton is a draw for nature lovers, hikers, bicycle enthusiasts and runners, just to name a few. Giant commercialism, strip malls and parking lots would destroy the uniqueness. I don't mind the drive to Destin, DeFuniak or Panama City to shop at Wal-Mart, and I am sure other SOWAL folks would be happy to continue do the same. I vote 'No.'" One small business owner threw sand on Wal-Mart's proposal. "There is nothing good about a Wal-Mart coming to South Walton. South Walton is special for so many reasons and our myriad of independent owner-operated retailers is a powerfully important element essential to preserving South Walton's unique character. Wal-Mart has a long tradition all over America of sucking the lifeblood of small business out of small communities and towns. Smaller retailers can't compete and they have to close. Keeping Wal-Mart at arm's length in Destin and Panama City is best for South Walton."

What you can do: The Walton Sun conducted a newspaper poll which asked 200 residents how they felt about the Wal-Mart. "Of the nearly 80 percent who responded, about twice as many look forward to the development as long as it is not on Walton County 30A and is done properly," the newspaper reported. But there are clearly many local residents and business owners who see the storm clouds gathering over their pristine shores. "It will cheapen our bit of paradise," agreed a resident of nearby Blue Mountain, Florida. "It will put local businesses that are already struggling out of business. I realize it is a far drive to the one in Destin and it can help save money, but don't put it there. They just spent a fortune on beautifying the roadway and now it will look horrible." The final decision is in the hands of Walton County officials. There are 5 County Commissioners in Walton County. They have developed a list of six strategic objectives for 2010, which include: "Promote the development of more diverse and higher paying jobs," and "Protect natural resources areas from negative impacts of growth." This Wal-Mart project will challenge both of those goals. Readers are urged to contact District 5 Commissioner Cecelia Jones at: joncecilia@co.walton.fl.us with the following message: "Dear Commissioner Jones, South Walton County will soon have more Wal-Marts than beaches. Route 98 looks like a string of superstores strung along the coast, creating suburban sprawl down the edge of your county. The latest plan for Santa Rosa Beach makes no sense in light of the county's strategic objectives to promote higher paying jobs, and to protect natural resources from the negative impacts of growth. The Wal-Mart plan, even though it is on the 'smaller' side of Wal-Mart superstores, is still bigger than a football field -- and its parking lot will be three times the size of the store itself. This kind of growth, which brings little new revenue or jobs -- because it just changes market shares locally -- is imcompatible with the 26 miles of your "Blue Wave' shoreline beaches. Tourists who travel hundreds of miles to reach your beaches do not want to find the same sprawl they left behind at home. Protect South Walton county from growth that adds no value. Tell Wal-Mart Santa Rosa Beach is not compatible with their scale of development."










 
 
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