Timberville, VA. Wal-Mart Pushes Rezoning Plan on Quaint Small Town
Several days ago, upset residents in the community of Timberville, Virginia reported that they are organizing to fight off a 128,000 s.f. Wal-Mart Supercenter that is planned for 16 acres in this Shenandoah Valley community.
Timberville is a tiny town, with a population of only 2,522. The town's website says, "While experiencing positive growth, Timberville maintains the quaint, feel and friendliness of a small town." But the town's website also says: "Timberville's population is becoming more diverse and the types of businesses are becoming more varied to offer residents greater shopping and service options without the need to travel too far."
Elementary school kids won't have to travel too far to the Wal-Mart. The proposed supercenter is just 150 yards from the town's Plains Elementary School. One opponent in town told the Daily News-Record, her greatest concern was the close proximity a built store will have to the Elementary School, where her child is a pupil. "I don't want added traffic outside of the school," she said.
Another local resident told Sprawl-Busters, "At one time we had 3 locally owned grocery stores. When Food Lion moved in, it wiped them all out plus 1 in the next town over. Wal-Mart will take out any small businesses left, not only in our town but the neighboring town as well."
The local newspaper quotes an anti-Wal-Mart activist, Ashley Driver, as saying: "There is a lot of perceived benefits that don't hold up when you do the research."
Wal-Mart officially arrived in Timberville on July 24th, when it submitted plans to rezone 16 acres of land. The retailer claimed its new store would create 300 new jobs. But this is a form of "Wal-Math," because the company's calculator never subtracts out the net job impact after jobs at other merchants are lost. In this case, a trade area the size of Timberville cannot support a Wal-Mart superstore, which will contain at least 51,000 s.f. of floor space just for groceries---which exceeds the size of most Food Lion stores.
Area residents understand that Wal-Mart is not a form of economic development. It is a form of economic displacement. All of the "benefits" Wal-Mart touts are either unsupported, or inaccurate. Wal-Mart's sales are mostly "captured" from existing merchants, and represent a growth in market share for Wal-Mart, and a loss for other merchants---just as Food Lion's market share transferred from local merchants. "In effect, you're just taking out of one pocket and putting into another," one local resident told the News-Record.
The Wal-Mart controversy is beginning to undermine the 'small town quaint, friendliness' of this community. The town's Facebook page contains the following unsigned comment apparently written by a town official: "By now everyone has probably heard about the rezoning request for Wal-Mart. We understand that this is a very passionate issue for opponents and supporters alike. There are petitions on both sides of the issue being circulated and individuals from both views who are going door to door to garner support. I received a report of unsavory tactics being used, so for those going door to door, whether you are for or against Wal-Mart, you need to respect the residents you are approaching. If a resident gives you an answer that is opposite your position or tell you they aren't interested and they ask you to leave it is not appropriate to continue to try to persuade them. It is also very important to choose your wording appropriately when approaching residents since I have also received reports of what were construed as threatening statements. Residents need to know that if someone approaches you on your property you have every right to ask them to leave if you don't want them there."
Opponents of this huge superstore (the building alone consumes 3 acres) point out that this rezoning is not compatible with the towns' land use plan. "In the 2012 Timberville Comprehensive Plan, a vibrant downtown and historical district is referenced repeatedly as a goal of the Town of Timberville. If the Town of Timberville is ambitious in becoming a Main Street community, it is necessary for the community to attract multiple, locally owned businesses to open within their town limits. This Town goal will be difficult, if not near impossible, to achieve with the presence of a large, international corporation like Wal-Mart located less than a mile away from the desired downtown and historical district. It is likely that the Town of Timberville will lose potential businesses that will locate in different towns, such as New Market, to avoid the direct competition and influence of Wal-Mart."
The 2012 Comprehensive Plan also says a town goal is to "promote the idea of a healthy, inviting environment and cohesive community in which to raise a family." Residents point out that Timberville "has progressed with this goal and has done an excellent job of attracting people to the area. This can be seen with the annexation of Legion Hills. However, it is important to understand the main demographic group that is currently relocating to the area. This demographic group is in the 20-34 year age group. These individuals are moving out of the urban environment such as the City of Harrisonburg and other like communities, to be in a small community, potentially to raise a family or pursue a different lifestyle. Statistics show that this age demographic does not regularly shop at Wal-Mart... Having personally spoken with several residents of Legion Hills, they are turned off by the idea of Wal-Mart coming to the area and changing the community which they have specifically chosen to relocate to."
And as for the "convenience" of shopping at a superstore, an opponent warns: "with the traffic the store would generate one must consider how convenient will the store truly be? Frankly, there are very few things that I or my family would want to buy at Wal-Mart that we currently cannot find in the stores already located in the area. With the addition of more Family Dollars and Dollar Stores, the burden of driving to Harrisonburg is already greatly reduced. I have chosen to live in this area knowing that it's a 20 minute drive to Harrisonburg. I did so purposefully to remove myself and family from the traffic and congestion that surrounds large, big box stores... .it should be noted that what makes the Town of Timberville unique and attractive is the Town's personable, truly genuine small town feel and local identity. The presence of Wal-Mart does not contribute to that personable identity. The loss of such an identity will undermine the goals listed above and efforts put forth in the development of the comprehensive plan."
Wal-Mart's rezoning request will be discussed at a public hearing before the Town Council at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 22 in the Plains Community Center.
What you can do: Opponents have begun an online petition against the rezoning, and a Facebook page. For more background, go to:
Readers are urged to contact Timberville Mayor Donald DeLaughter at 540-896-7058 with the following message:
"Dear Mayor DeLaughter,
Your small town has 4 Wal-Marts within 24 miles of Timberville. Residents in your community have easy access to cheap Chinese imports without having to add another Wal-Mart superstore. The fact is, if a town with roughly 2,500 people has a superstore of 128,000 s.f., which is far larger than other retailers, you could lose as many jobs as you 'create,' because this store can only survive by stealing sales away from your existing merchants---and not just Food Lion.
Many of your residents were drawn to Timberville by its small town character. But you can't buy small town quality of life on any Wal-Mart shelf, and once they take it away from you, they can't sell it back at any price.
The scale of this Wal-Mart project is incompatible with the neighborhood and character of surrounding properties. This 16 acre parcel is not zoned for large-scale commercial use. It is also inharmonious with your Comprehensive Land Use Plan goal of maintaining a "vibrant downtown."
Under section 802.24 of your Zoning Code, the Town Governing Body must make any rezoning decision based on public purposes findings for a rezoning, such as "public necessity, convenience, general welfare, or good zoning practice." Wal-Mart cannot demonstrate these public purposes. There is no public necessity for adding another private business that will adversely impact similar existing businesses. If this was a new sewer system or public library---those are examples of public necessity.
Added traffic congestion and crime does not promote public convenience. Causing surrounding properties to lose valuation does not serve the public welfare. Putting large scale retail next to inharmonious land uses is not good zoning practice. This huge store fails to meet any of the rezoning findings you must make to avoid a challenge by your own residents.
Timberville is far too small for a huge superstore. This rezoning request is arbitrary and capricious, and it violates your Comp Plan and your Zoning Code. Just because Wal-Mart Real Estate cannot find a properly zoned land in Timberville is neither your fault, nor your loss.
Tell Wal-Mart Real Estate to get back in touch when they have found properly zoned land. Make their plan fit your zoning---not the reverse."