Lamar County, MS. Residents Organize To Fight Wal-Mart “Commercial Creep”
Lamar County, Mississippi has a population of close to 55,000 people spread out over 500 square miles of mostly rural communities. It’s located in the southwestern part of the state, and is pegged as the second fastest growing county in Mississippi.
To prevent its land from becoming sprawled with commercial growth, the county produced a Comprehensive Plan at the end of 2008. One of the goals of that Plan was “to maintain the peaceful and serene quality of life the piney woods are known for,”
Then along came Wal-Mart.
In fact, according to the giant retailer, there a 9 Wal-Mart stores near to Hattiesburg, one of the principle towns in Lamar County. Hattiesburg alone has 2 Wal-Mart supercenters.
One of the land use goals in the Lamar County Comprehensive Plan is to “protect residential neighborhoods from encroachment by intensive commercial uses,” and Policy #10 in Plan says: “commercial creep shall be discouraged.”
That’s why angry homeowners turned out this week to speak against a proposed Wal-Mart before the Lamar County Planning Commission. Wal-Mart has proposed a store on Highway 98, about 5 miles west of an existing Wal-Mart superstore on the same highway in Hattiesburg. The store would abut the Canebrake residential subdivision property line.
The Canebrake Homeowners Association is not happy about the Wal-Mart, and according to Channel 7 TV WDAM, homeowners have held informal meetings to discuss their concerns.
At their November 10th meeting, the planning commission voted to table the hearing issue until the December. WDAM reported that there was a “full house” at the Commission’s meeting, and most of the people who showed up were homeowners from the Canebrake and Lake Serene residential neighborhoods. Residents said they were “overwhelmingly against the Wal-Mart proposal,” according to Channel 7 News.
Although the city planner told the audience not to focus on Wal-Mart, but just to think about the land being zoned ‘big box retail,’ that was of no comfort to opponents.
When the president of the planning commission, asked a representative of the retailer what the plan was for the site, the answer was, “I don’t know.”
Sixty Canebrake homeowners united to hire an attorney, Sam McHard, who noted that Wal-Mart claimed there was a need for the new store. But McHard pointed out that there are five big box retailers in the area—and therefore no public need as presented.
According to Attorney McHard, local realtors told him residential property values nearby this development could drop as much as 40%. “It would absolutely destroy the property value of patrons in Canebrake,” One elderly resident testified before the Commission that she could not afford to have her home devalued and just wanted to be able to watch her grandchildren grow up.
McHard also warned that crime would drive up the cost of county police protection for the big store. Another resident at the meeting said a Wal-Mart with a grocery store and pharmacy may cause problems for Corner Market and the new CVS on Hwy 98.
What you can do: Readers are urged to contact Lamar County Senior Planner Michael Hershman at (601) 794-1024 with the following message:
"Dear Mr. Hershman,
Lamar County’s Comprehensive Plan suggests you want to 'maintain the peaceful and serene quality of life the piney woods are known for.' That’s not going to happen if you accept “commercial creep” like Wal-Mart supercenters next to residential developments. That’s an incompatible land use—-far too intensive to abut homeowners.
There is clearly no need for another Wal-Mart just 5 miles from the one in Hattiesburg. Please tell Benny Prestridge on the Planning Commission that I called, and that I don’t want another Wal-Mart creeping up on us—-like a cheap pair of underwear.”