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2011-09-14
Eureka Springs, AR. Wal-Mart Abandons Small Store Project

It could be a huge Wal-Mart superstore, or the smallest version they build: but when Wal-Mart pulls the plug on a project, local citizens savor the victory. This week, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette newspaper reports that Wal-Mart has decided to fold its tent in a small historic community only 40 miles east of the retailer's headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Wal-Mart has confirmed that it is walking away froma proposed "Express" store in the town of Eureka Springs. A company spokesman told the newspaper, "We've decided not to proceed with this project. It wasn't right for our every-day, low-price business model. We're going to continue to look at a way to bring our products to our customers in Eureka Springs."

One of the members of the Eureka Springs City Council told the Democrat Gazette that the real reason Wal-Mart bailed on the site was financial: the construction costs were too high. The site has no sewer line, and has over 100 trees that need to be removed. A hill on the site would have to be leveled as well. The building itself would have been just under 15,000 s.f. This small "Express" store would have been Wal-Mart's first store in Eureka Springs, a city that has catered to historic preservation and tourism.

"There's a lot of dirt work on that piece of property," the City Councilor told the newspaper. "There's a lot of hillside they'd have to cut, a lot of trees. And the Planning Commission could make them come back and replace that number of trees. Your site costs are an incredible amount of the project, especially around Eureka and the Ozarks."

But as local citizens began to celebrate, the city councilor sounded a note of caution. "From what I was hearing from them, it's not a dead deal. It's just that that site's not going to work out."

A spokesman for Wal-Mart took pains to assure the Democrat-Gazette that opposition from local residents was not a factor in the company's withdrawal. One city Alderman had introduced an article creating a freeze on any removal of trees in Eureka Springs for the next five years.

Eureka Springs resident Robert Hotchkiss sent the following frontlines report to Sprawl-Busters about the Wal-Mart announcement this week: "I have a victory to report against Wal-Mart, right here in their own back yard .(We are only about 40 miles from Bentonville, 25 as the crow flies). We have succeeded in getting Wal-Mart to abandon their plans to put a Wal-Mart express store here in the beautiful and historic small town of Eureka Springs Arkansas, America's Victorian Village.

There were several problems with the proposed site. The building lot was only about two acres and the number of parking spaces that they wanted to place exceeded the number allowed by the existing zoning ordinance. There was no existing sewer line to the property and while Wal-Mart tried to offer the city a sweetheart deal to extend the sewer lines that would have served various other homes and businesses in the area, after doing some checking it was determined that they required a 30 foot easement. On the proposed building site they only had in some places an easement that was 16 feet wide.

We also were able to get a petition against the proposed project with nearly 2,000 signatures (almost the entire population of Eureka Springs, although in all fairness, I am quite sure that some of the signatures came from tourists that didn't want to see the quaint charms of our small town destroyed by big retail). The final nail in the Wal-Mart coffin came when it was disclosed that 117 trees would have had to be cut down for the project, and based upon the objections of an arborist, an Alderman introduced a proposal for a 5 year moratorium on tree cutting within the Eureka Springs city limits.

I have presented to the Board of Zoning Adjustment/Planning Commission a proposal for an amendment to the existing city ordinances to include a Major Development Review, but I have been unsuccessful so far in getting it through. However, a seat on the planning commission has just become available, and I will be submitting my application...

I am sure that this is not the last that we will hear of Wal-Mart in our precious jewel of a town. We will remain ever vigilant, do all that we can to encourage positive reforms and a major development review process to be adopted in our city ordinances, and if and when big box retail comes calling again, we will be ready."

What you can do: Readers are urged to help Eureka Springs get ready by going to Eureka Springs Mayor Morris Pate's contact form at:

http://www.cityofeurekasprings.org/index.php?option=com_rsform&Itemid=53

and sending him the following message:

"Dear Mayor Pate, Your beautiful city has been on the National Register of Historic Places for more than four decades. Your goal for years has been to protect and promote the city's architectural integrity and historic value for future generations. You don't protect historic value by building Wal-Marts -- of any size.

Your community already has a Wal-Mart superstore 11 miles away in Berryville. Some would argue that that's close enough to prevent sprawl from changing the public perception about the unique nature of Eureka Springs.

But be forewarned: Wal-Mart will look for other sites near you, and unless you adopt a Major Development Review ordinance, and put a cap on the size of retail buildings, your reputation as 'the extraordinary escape' is only one Wal-Mart away from destruction."










 
 
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