Middle Township, NJ. Wal-Mart Seeks Grocery Expansion Despite Traffic Concerns
Residents of Middle Township, New Jersey learned this week that the Wal-Mart in their community wants to get bigger, by expanding its grocery square footage, in a mall that is already a traffic problem. Critics say their traffic numbers are low-balled.
Middle Township, a community of close to 19,000 people, which swells to 60,000 people over the summer tourist season, boasts that it is "situated in the center of Cape May County [and] offers convenient access to all of the towns surrounding it. Minutes from the Garden State Parkway, the Route 9 thoroughfare and access to thousands of tourists in the neighboring beach towns during the months of April -- September... Middle Township is located in the county seat with an active business environment, yet close to the beach communities, with countless amenities that make it a unique place to live, work, and play." Tourism is a major revenue driver in Cape May County, which experienced $5.2 billion in tourist expenditures in 2012 from 12.4 million visitors.
According to the Cape May County Herald, the Middle Township Planning Board will be reviewing plans for the Wal-Mart expansion on January 14th. The giant retailer is looking for the township to grant it a site plan approval---but there are parking and traffic hurdles first to overcome.
The newspaper referred to the application as "an enlarged grocery component" that would add 41,459-square feet to the existing Wal-Mart---the equivalent of almost an acre of new building. An empty Fashion Bug store would be razed, and replaced with the Wal-Mart expansion. The Wal-Mart site is just shy of 20 acres. Wal-Mart does not own the larger mall.
Wal-Mart's application suggests that the renovation would result in a full-grocery section, plus changes to the garden section, a "redefined"parking lot, changes to the drainage "catch basin" and alteration of the entrance and exit to the lot. The project was submitted by the Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust.
Wal-Mart wants to add a full-line grocery, but apparently doesn't have room in the parking lot to accommodate a major expansion in store traffic that a food store would generate. Grocery stores generate more traffic than discount stores, because shoppers make more frequent visits per month to food stores than to discount merchants.
Wal-Mart indicates that the new, larger store will have 883 parking spaces, which is an increase of only 47 spots beyond the current parking lot capacity of 835 spaces. The new store will require 1,004 parking spaces under the township's zoning ordinance---so the store will need a variance for parking.
To justify this small increase in parking, Wal-Mart's developer produced a parking study conducted on Labor Day in 2011, which showed that its current parking lot was only 48% full on a Saturday peak hour, and 42% full on a Friday evening peak hour, and projected that the summertime load would be 51%.
The developer also wants township officials to believe that the added traffic from the creation of a full grocery store will have "minimal to no impact" on the driveway access to the site, or to the traffic operations along the store's frontage. Middle Township may not be aware that all Wal-Mart projects are designed in Lake Wobegon, where all the traffic flow is good looking, and all level of service is above average.
But according to a Market Analysis produced for the township in 2013, "the highest concentrations of traffic are found in those locations where the Township has targeted its "centers" growth --Rio Grande." The business district of Rio Grande supports larger retail operations, and is where the current Wal-Mart is located. According to the same study, "The retail trade sector is dominated by motor vehicle and supply stores; big box retailers such as Pet Smart, Wal-Mart, Lowes, and other national chains; health and personal care; and food and beverage stores."
The study also examined 10 key areas of retail leakage, where sales were leaving Middle Township for other areas. Of the 10 retail categories with "the highest likelihood for market success" in Middle Township, none of them were grocery stores.
Wal-Mart did not specify how many jobs this grocery expansion would create--but there is a ShopRite at Rio Grande right across the street from Wal-Mart, so most of Wal-Mart's "new" jobs will come from existing grocery stores like ShopRite.
Jerry Chudoff, a spokesman for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 152 told Sprawl-Busters that Wal-Mart lowballed its traffic numbers. "The traffic information they submitted was not a genuine baseline. No wonder the parking lot was empty....Hurricane Irene hit the area earlier that week. The intent was obvious. The engineers could have used July 4th or Labor Day 2013---now that we know they work on holidays."
What you can do: Readers are urged to email Middle Township, NJ Mayor Daniel Lockwood at: firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Lockwood,
Middle Township is a tourist and resort destination. The more you clog up your streets with big box stores, the less of a destination you will become.
Wal-Mart's latest plan to expand their grocery section is not a job generator, or a revenue generator. You only have to across the street to ShopRite to see where Wal-Mart jobs will come from. There will be no net job growth from this expansion.
What you will get is more traffic to Wal-Mart, and more crime. Your local roads are already stressed by the traffic at Rio Grande. Adding more car trips more often will only cause the level of service to deteriorate more. Wal-Mart also should not be given a variance around parking lot capacity. If you are going to look at traffic, then have an independent study done--don't base your findings on traffic impacts the developer produces.
The solution here is very simple: just tell Wal-Mart to make interior renovations to their current footprint to change their product mix any way they want. Middle Township does not need more grocery capacity--and creating a dead store where ShopRite stands is not a form of economic development. Your own market analysis from 2013 does not list grocery stores on its list of needed retail."