Hope Mills, North Carolina. Residents Say "No More Hope for Wal-Mart"
Wal-Mart is like a cheap pair of underwear: they keep creeping up on you. Residents in the community of Hope Mills, North Carolina have organized to fight off Wal-Mart "commercial creep."
As it does in many cases, Wal-Mart chose land that is zoned residential, and asked local officials to rezone the roughly 9 acre property to commercial to allow them to build a Neighborhood Market, which is roughly 42,000 s.f. The project will also include a gas station. The developer told the Zoning Board, "It's not a big-box store."
In late July, the Hope Mills Zoning Board took 3 hours of testimony from proponents and opponents, some of whom held up signs reading "Save our Neighborhoods" and "No Commercial Creep." The Board came in for some criticism when all they could produce was a tie vote on a proposed Wal-Mart. The vote was 3-3, which means the Zoning Board made no recommendation to the town Board of Commissioners, which has the final say.
According to the Fay Observer newspaper, Wal-Mart opponents were not pleased when the Zoning Board chairman voted for the plan---because members of his family own property near the site. Although the town's lawyer said the Zoning Chair did not have to recuse himself, opponents said there was a clear conflict of interest. "I think ownership of the property by a relative... does not constitute a direct or substantial financial impact..." the town's lawyer said.
But during the hearing, the Zoning Board voted to go into Executive Session for 45 minutes, so the public had no clue what the Board felt they had to discuss in private.
Still, a 3-3 tie reflected the deep ambivalence in town for Wal-Mart. One of the property owners selling her land to Wal-Mart said her parcel was no longer suitable as a residential neighborhood. She said she has been trying to sell her house---but nobody wants to live in an increasingly commercial area.
That's exactly the point other homeowners in the neighborhood are trying to make: their largest investment, their home, must be protected from further commercial encroachment---or they will not be able to sell their homes.
The Mayor of Hope Mills, Jackie Warner, who lives near the site, came out against the Wal-Mart. "If this turns commercial, it's only a matter of time until the commercial spreads further," her husband, Alex Warner, a former State Representative, said.
Hope Mills already has a Wal-Mart supercenter just minutes away. "It will generate so much traffic, it will be bottleneck," one neighbor said. "We need development, but we need it in a rational and careful method."
Just over month ago, the Cumberland County Planning and Inspections staff sent a memo to the Hope Mills Zoning Board, concluding that the Wal-Mart "is not consistent with the recently adopted Southwest Cumberland Land Use Plan, which calls for 'low-density residential' in this area."
The Planning staff said the rezoning to commercial "is not recommended and not in the public interest."
The board is scheduled to discuss the Wal-Mart proposal at its Aug. 18 meeting.
What you can do:
Readers are urged to call Mayor Jackie Warner at 910-424-0030, with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Warner,
I hope you will aggressively lobby your Board of Commissioners to oppose the rezoning of residential land for a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market and gas station.
This is not a project that is harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood, and its not compatible with the county's land use plan.
Zoning is about creating win/win land uses that are compatible. In this case, the developer wins, the existing neighborhood loses. And for what? Hope Mills already has a Wal-Mart supercenter, so local residents have no trouble getting access to cheap Chinese imports.
Protect the investment these homeowners have made. Do not sacrifice them to make the Walton's a little richer. Defend your homeowners.
Once you tip the scales towards large scale retail, the residential character of the neighborhood is ruined."