Caledonia, WI. Wal-Mart Proposal Triggers Opposition Write-In Campaign
The prospect of a Wal-Mart in one small village in Wisconsin has turned into a political donnybrook, forcing activists to run for office two days before an election in order to run Wal-Mart back out of town.
The Village of Caledonia, Wisconsin is located in the northeast corner of Racine County on 49 square miles including 3 square miles of river and lake areas. Located between Lake Michigan and Interstate Highway I-94, this community of roughly 25,000 people says it "provides convenient access" to the rural life, and to the urban Milwaukee to Chicago corridor. But it also has no Wal-Mart, which makes it somewhat unique among Wisconsin towns.
This confluence of "urban and rural life style choices" recently became a subject of controversy when it was revealed that Wal-Mart wanted to open up a large store in the village. There are six Wal-Mart stores within 15 miles of Caledonia, including a Wal-Mart discount store 8 miles away in Franklin, Wisconsin, and a Wal-Mart superstore in Sturtevant, Wisconsin less than 9 miles away. There are also nearby Wal-Marts in Milwaukee, Greenfield, Kenosha, and Muskego. So any resident of Caledonia that wants cheap Chinese imports, there are plenty of shopping choices.
This past week, local residents gathered along Highway 31 and 4 Mile Road with tshirts that read: "Wal-Mart: Not In My Neighborhood." The giant retailer has proposed a 151,000 s.f. store -- even before it has formally submitted a detailed plan. The developer, Gatlin Development of Tennessee, has run into serious community opposition in several states.
On February 19, 2011, Sprawl-Busters reported that Gatlin Development had formally withdrawn plans to rezone 25 acres of village land to build a 115,000-square-foot Wal-Mart in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. "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."
Opponents in Caledonia say they are not categorically against a Wal-Mart in their village, but not in this rural corner. Two residents, David Gottardo and Margo Tepley have started a write-in campaign for the board of trustees, running on an anti-Wal-Mart platform. The election for the Village board takes place on April 5th.
Gottardo is the spokesman for the Caledonia Coalition for Responsible Economic Planning, who will be running against incumbent Trustee Kevin Wanggaard, who until a a few days ago was running unopposed. Gottardo is a lawyer who lives about one-quarter mile away from the site.
The other write-in candidate, Margo Tepley, threw her hat into the ring on April 2nd. She is a retired corporate trainer who lives one-half block west of the site and seeks to replace incumbent trustee Kathy Burton.
The new write-in candidates told the Racine Journal Times that they decided to run against the incumbents for a seat on the Village Board because, in Gottardo's words, "they were unopposed, and basically they're the ones we (coalition members) have gotten no response from. We're worried what their views may be."
What you can do: In response to criticism about the site he has chosen, Gatlin told the newspaper that his team was looking at all sites in the area "to see if we missed anything. As of now, we haven't found any (others)." Just as Gatlin pulled back on a site in Menomonee Falls, opponents in Caledonia are hoping that Gatlin will back off this site. But Gatlin told the Journal Times he still thought the chosen site is appropriate but added, "we're not going to close our doors to any site."
Readers are urged to call Caledonia's Village Board President Ron Coutts at (262) 835-6454 with the following message: "Dear President Coutts, You've been on the Village Board since 2006, and Chaired the Caledonia Planning Commission. You must know the downside of big box stores, and you know that Gatlin Development brings along controversy with it whereever it goes.
In Menomonee Falls, Gatlin was forced to pull back from a Wal-Mart site or face defeat. Caldedonians do not have to travel very far to find a Wal-Mart store in communities like Franklin or Sturtevant. Every small village and town in Wisconsin does not need its own Wal-Mart twice the size of a football field.
This store will only force smaller grocery stores to go dark, and have a negative impact on many other merchants. This proposal has obviously kicked up a great deal of controversy,and spilled over onto your political races.
As Village President, you can tell Gatlin that he's trying to locate on the wrong site, at the wrong size. The Caledonia trade area is already saturated with Wal-Marts."