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2011-02-19
Menomonee Falls, WI. Developer Officially Withdraws His Wal-Mart Plans

Sometimes the writing is just on the WAL. In the village of Menomonee Falls,Wisconsin this week, a Wal-Mart developer clearly saw that his project was going down, so he folded his tent and left the community. Gatlin Development of Tennessee, which was seeking to rezone 25 acres of village land to build a 115,000-square-foot Wal-Mart, told local officials last month that a specific plan had not been created. But now the entire project is dead, and opponents are celebrating a victory.

"Gatlin remains interested in developing this site," the developer said in a letter to the village, "but will seek municipal permitting when specific plans have been honed." That means the door is still open a crack. Village President Randall Newman said last month that Gatlin could find other sites in the village that might work. "I'm not implying at this time to abandon it because we have other places in the village that could still be developed," Newman was quoted as saying by the Menomonee Falls News.

Eleven years ago, Sprawl-Busters reported that the village of Menomonee Falls, a suburb of Milwaukee, had a big problem with big box stores. Menomonee Falls has given thumbs down to Home Depot not once, but twice. The Village Board had also rejected a Menard's store. The Village President at the time, Joe Greco, said his community had had its fill of big box stores -- and he planned to do something about it. After all, the community has paid its dues to superstores: there is a Target, Kohl's and Big K store already in the village, and residents are saturated with boxes. Today, there are 15 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Menomonee Falls, including a supercenter less than two miles away in Germantown, Wisconsin,

"The people don't want it," Greco told the Journal Sentinel newspaper. "We've seen it with Menards; we've seen it with the Home Depots. I want to be able to provide neighborhood commercial services, but I don't believe we want to have (any more) businesses that provide regional services. I think we've done our fair share." Greco said residents had raised a "whole myriad of concerns" about big stores, including traffic impacts, storm water runoff, and other community development issues. "The message has come through from the community that people don't want 'big box'," Greco said. "I know that other communities have done it."

In response, Greco began thinking outside of the box, and proposed amending Menomonee Falls' zoning ordinance to limit the square footage of commercial buildings. "I think it's time to stop," said President Greco. The village eventually did require retail stores over 60,000 s.f. to get a conditional use permit, which is not enough to stop a big box store developer.

That was in the year 2000. But Menomonee Falls today is still struggling with box stores 11 years later. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in November, 2010 that Wal-Mart was invading the metro Milwaukee area with as many as 8 or 9 new stores. "We're looking to serve our customers all over the state," a spokesman for the retailer told the Journal. "There's plenty of opportunity in Milwaukee."

Gatlin Development has its fingers in several Wal-Mart pies in Milwaukee, South Milwaukee, Greendale, and Menomonee Falls. Wal-Mart was pursuing a "flexible sizing plan" according to the Journal, including stand-alone grocery units at 20,000 s.f., medium stores in the range fo 30,000 to 60,000 s.f., and large stores at 80,000 s.f. and up.

In January, 2011 Wal-Mart revealed more of its intentions for the village of Menomonee Falls. Gatlin Development asked the village's Plan Commission to rezone 25 acres of land for its 115,000 s.f retail development. The Menomonee Falls site is on the southern edge of the village, bordering Brookfield. It's roughly a 10-minute drive to Gatlin's proposed Wal-Mart store in Milwaukee, and 20-minute drive from an existing Wal-Mart supercenter in Germantown.

Given Menomonee Falls' history with big box stores, it was not surprising that the MenomJonee Falls Plan Commission voted on Jan. 4 th to reject Wal-Mart's rezoning request. Local residents came to the hearing and raised concerns about the traffic that this huge store would generate. Part of the roadway slated for the superstore is a two-lane road which heads south into Brookfield, Wisconsin. "The roads in that area are not prepared to take that kind of traffic," one neighbor told the newspaper. At least 100 people showed up for the hearing, mostly opposed to rezoning the 3 parcels of land that Gatlin was trying to consolidate under one zone.

Plan Commissioner and Village Trustee Michael McDonald told developers he would never vote for the proposal on any level adding that this was the worst possible location for a plan like this. Falls residents turned out in force, because the site is located next to a condo development. "I don't want Walmart there. We don't need it," one condo neighbor told the Commission. "We'll have traffic. We'll have kids, we'll have a lot of commotion. We don't want that."

One resident whose home is just feet from the Wal-Mart property line, expressed concern over violence and crime that happened recently at a nearby mall in Milwaukee. "Look at Mayfair shopping center," he said. "It's only a matter of time, they build it here, over there. It's going to happen. I got to worry about what's going to happen to my property, and who's going to be sneaking through the yard?"


What you can do: The Milwaukee Journal newspaper suggested last month that Wal-Mart and Gatlin might withdraw their plan to avoid an enmbarassing defeat at the Village Board. Wal-Mart made it sound like it needs to do a little more political homework before returning to the Village.

A spokeswoman for the retailer noted that the whole process is just beginning, and her company wants to try to make its pitch directly to local residents. "We haven't had a chance to talk to neighbors," the spokesman told the Journal -- which means the retailer chose not to meet with angry neighbors, but proceeded directly to the Plan Commission, hoping to score points there. But once the Plan Commission said No, and the Village President was part of that rejection, Wal-Mart realized it had made a mistake by not trying to win over the neighbors first.

Readers are urged to email Menomonee Falls Village President Randy Newman at trusteenewman@menomonee-falls.org with this message:

"Dear President Newman, Great news that Gatlin Development has deep-sixed it's Wal-Mart plan -- at least for the time being. Gatlin has its sights set on multiple sites around metro Milwaukee -- so they won't even notice if Menomonee Falls drops from the list.

Your Village has at least an eleven year history of discomfort with retail projects that are super-sized for a village community. You are right to oppose major rezonings like this one. You are not required to rezone land for anyone, and your residents have every reason to oppose this project literally in their backyards. This proposal was the wrong size and the wrong place for Menomonee Falls, and I urge you to continue to oppose any big box store more than a football field and a half in size.

You can't buy small town quality of life at any Wal-Mart. Once they take it from you, they can't sell it back at any price."










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

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