Belle Chasse, LA. Wal-Martís Big Plan Runs Into Small Town Resistance
A Texas developer with big Wal-Mart dreams ran into some small town opposition this past week.
Developer Jeff Moore, who does business as Realm Realty in Houston, Texas, set up a meeting with neighbors in a residential development in Belle Chasse, Louisiana to discuss his plans to construct a 115,177 s.f. Wal-Mart, plus 80,000 in additional retail space on a total of 33 acres of land.
But his plans for a small, intimate discussion with neighbors mushroomed quickly, and a total of nearly 300 local residents showed up for the event -- most of them opposed to the project, according to the Times Picayune newspaper.
"We welcome development and tax dollars," said Plaquemines Parish Councilman Keith Hinkley. "But we are not going to be blindsided by money to sacrifice quality of life. We can't get blinded by tax revenue. We cannot give up quality of life for tax revenue."
Hinkley warned that a large development like this superstore in a compact area would affect the Belle Chasse community as a whole. To prevent this from happening, Hinkley announced that he is working on a zoning ordinance that would prohibit any commercial development over 25,000 s.f. without strict guidelines and approval. Hinkley's proposed ordinance will go before the council the last week in January.
The Belle Chasse Auditorium on January 18th was filled with skeptical residents who feared that the store would cause local flooding, and put area merchants out of business.
"The fact of the matter is that everyone is already shopping at Wal-Mart," the developer replied. "But they are taking their tax dollars to Jefferson Parish." He claimed that his project would add $4 million to the parish's treasury.
The owner of the local Plaquemines Pharmacy near the proposed development, said his business would be hurt. "We will lose our small-town community. This type of development will destroy that," he said. But the developer said local residents in Belle Chasse would no longer have to cross the Intracoastal Canal bridge, which is often raised to let ships pass through.
Homeowners in Springwood Estates abutting the superstore raised concerns about drainage. "It's hard for residents to understand how development can be considered when you have existing problems that haven't been addressed," one neighbor said. "You have to have the infrastructure before you can develop it."
One owner of a small restaurant said he had once owned a meat market that was driven out of business by Wal Mart. "Businesses have to have competition," he explained, "but Wal-Mart is so big now that they do everything. They kill all small stores like us."
Another woman who got up to speak told Wal-Mart officials she didn't want the traffic and crime that their store would bring. "Most of us moved here to get away from that," one woman said. "We moved here because it didn't look like Clearview and Veterans (a major retail intersection)."
According to station WDSU, Councilman Keith Hinkley told the audience that he would seek additional public comment on the proposal at open forums in the community. What started off as a small homeowner's meeting ended up as a big problem for Wal-Mart and its Houston developer.
What you can do: Readers are urged to contact Plaquemines Parish Council President Billy Nungesser at: firstname.lastname@example.org with this message:
"Dear President Nungesser, You have been Council President now for 4 years. In that time, you have seen some economic development plans that work, and some that don't. The recent proposal from a Texas developer to build a huge Wal-Mart superstore the size of two football fields, is just one plan that should never be built.
Belle Chasse does not need the traffic or the crime that comes with these huge developments. A community of less than 15,000 people does not need a store this size. Councilman Hinkley was at the Springwood Estates meeting with Wal-Mart. He saw the concern and frustration on the part of parish residents.
You have the chance now to pass an ordinance that limits the size of retail buildings. Hundreds of communities across the country have taken this action to protect themselves from developers whose greed has no cap.
You are right to say that there is one common goal in Plaquemines: to improve the quality of life in the Parish. You, as President, can do just that by ensuring that a size cap ordinance gets passed, limiting retail stores to 25,000 s.f. -- period. No special permits, no conditional uses -- just put a cap on sprawl, and save these 33 valuable acres for something that doesn't just close down existing small businesses in your Parish."