Oriental, NC. It's All About the Water---And Wal-Mart
The tiny town of Oriental, North Carolina (pop 900) has 3 Wal-Mart superstores within 30 miles---the closest one being in Havelock, N.C. 18 miles away. So if Oriental residents are addicted to cheap Chinese imports, they can easily find them.
Oriental touts its picturesque location as its main attribute. The town is located along the inner banks of the Neuse River, "where the boating season never ends." As the town proclaims, "In Oriental, it's all about the water."
Ironically, that statement describes the latest controversy that is churning the waves in Oriental--a battle with the world's largest retailer over access to town water.
On October 1, 2013 the Oriental Town Board voted to allow a Wal-Mart store, proposed just outside the town's border, to have access to Oriental's water system. But the Town Board voted Wal-Mart could have its water only if it agreed to be annexed into the town after its building opened for business. Town officials wanted the property taxes more than the water fees.
Oriental's water service ordinance requires out-of-town property owners to seek Town Board approval. This gave opponents of the project a small opening to block the development. Citizens argued that the Wal-Mart was a bad economic deal for their community, because the new store would capture its sales from existing town businesses.
According to the website TownDock.net, at the hearing in early October, former Planning Board Chairman Bob Miller told the Commissioners that "you don't understand the depth of feeling" in town against the store, and that providing water with no strings attached was a "big mistake."
"Annexation should come first," Miller said, "not water." Miller complained that Wal-Mart was trying to avoid compliance with the Oriental Growth Management Ordinance. "All you have to do to get around it is build outside of town and then ask for services."
By locating just outside town limits, Wal-Mart can construct its 12,000 s.f. Express store---which is a much smaller footprint that most Wal-Mart buildings---but comparatively speaking in this small community---larger than the 8,000 s.f. growth limits inside town limits. Wal-Mart could also avoid the impervious surface limits and erect a sign twice the size limit for in-town retailers.
Miller noted that after skirting all these town restrictions, Wal-Mart came to the town only to "ask us for water."
Town water pipes run up and down Hwy 55. Opponents charge that Wal-Mart wants water from Oriental because it would be more expensive for the company to run pipe to the nearest hook up with Pamlico County.
This week, Wal-Mart opponents sent Sprawl-Busters the following press release dated October 25th:
"A local battle is heating up with the Oriental Board of Commissioners considering the offer of town water with no strings attached to a proposed Wal-Mart Express just 300 feet outside town -limits. The town and area were recently pictured in a graphic of Wal-Mart's new "market ecosystem" strategy. Wal-Mart's graphic of the new strategy labeled the area an "example market" for "illustrative purposes only."
In early October, town commissioners offered Wal-Mart access to town water in return for annexation to the town after building completion. This week Wal-Mart informed the Interim Town Manager and Mayor of Oriental that it does not want to be held back by Oriental's Growth Management Ordinance, which would keep Wal-Mart from expanding in the future. Town Commissioners called a special meeting, just days before a board election, to reconsider their offer to Wal-Mart and possibly offer town water to Wal-Mart without requiring annexation."
At one point in the debate, Oriental Mayor Bill Sage made a resolution to unconditionally give Wal-Mart water---but he got no votes. The Mayor also offered a resolution that "Wal-Mart has indicated to the Town Manager and Mayor that it will not agree at this time to the annexation petition and that it will tap into Pamlico County's water system by constructing a water line from the nearest County water connect point to the store site if the Board of Commissioners declines permission to access town water without the annexation condition."
Opponents have spoken out during public comment periods calling on the Town to drive a better bargain. Residents wearing stickers which read "Table" urged the town to postpone any decision until the new Board takes over in December. Activist Lili Stern depicted the Town Board as a lame duck, since elections will be held on November 5.
What you can do: Wal-Mart has made it clear that it doesn't like the Town Board's water-for-annexation proposal. Wal-Mart's concern is future expansion. The "Keep Oriental, NC Walmart-Free" Campaign is leading an effort using social media, email, and face to face communication to encourage residents to express their concern that a Wal-Mart Express using town water without paying property taxes to the town will economically disadvantage the town's resources and allow Wal-Mart to utilize town police protection without paying for it.
The Keep Oriental, NC Walmart-Free campaign is a volunteer-led coalition of people who desire to safeguard Oriental's charm and resources, maintaining pride in Oriental as one of the few coastal towns remaining that have not been developed by mass retailers. Readers can contact the campaign's volunteers for more information: Lili Stern at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-450-8585 or Charis Hill at email@example.com or 252-634-8783
Readers are urged to send an email to Mayor Bill Sage firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Sage,
Your town slogan is right: 'It's all about the water.' Please ask members of the Town Board to ask themselves why Wal-Mart does not want to locate in your town, or live by your Growth Ordinance? The company clearly does not want to live by your rules. They want an advantage over in-town business, and only want you for your water. They want your police services for free.
Why would you want to do business with such people? The message this sends to other businesses is: forget about Oriental---just go to the county instead. Obviously Oriental needs to go to Pamlico county and get them on the same page--or your growth vision of Oriental will become a joke.
Wal-Mart has no respect for your vision of a small town, and couldn't care less what you hold dear about your quality of life. You can't buy small town atmosphere on any Wal-Mart shelf--and once they take it from you---you can't buy it back at any price."