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2001-03-25
Lake in the Hills, IL. Wal Mart Elementary School

No, Wal-Mart isn't getting into the public school business -- or is it? Residents in Lake in the Hills, Illinois, reported this week that their Village Board of Trustees became the 149th. community on the Sprawl-Busters list to reject a big box retailer. But this vote was a real "education" for local residents. "The developer tried to sweeten the Wal-Mart deal by saying he would donate a school site for our heavily overcrowded District 300 elementary school," residents told me. But according to reports in the Northwest Herald newspaper, developer Mike Origer's Wal-Mart & School proposal didn't get past the first grade. Origer presented the Village with a plan for a 128 acre development, including a community well site, and a 12 acre school site. According to the Herald, "residents said the developer lied about the proposed school site, and is using it as bait to gain approval." The Village Board was prepared to vote in favor of accepting land for a school and a well -- but not a Wal-Mart supercenter. The developer told the Village that the Wal-Mart was part of a package deal, and could not be broken out. "If you don't put a Wal-Mart up, we don't get a school," one resident pleaded before the vote. By by 11 pm on March 22nd, the Board of Trustees rejected the zoning change for the Wal-Mart. Residents turned out to the hearing to complain about the traffic, flooding and crime that they said would accompany a Wal-Mart supercenter. "Send a message to developers that they have to work hard," said resident Steve Katz. "That we expect great things, not mediocre." Testimony underscored the perception of residents that the developer was using a school as a lure to get a Wal-Mart. "I want schools," responded neighbor Jim Livergood, "but I don't want to be held hostage and used as a political football." The developer told the Board that they had "reserved" 12 acres for a school, but never promised to donate the land to the school district. "The school site should just be donated," said Planning Commission member Terri Doherty. "It shouldn't be blackmailed." For now, it looks like Wal-Mart flunked the course in Lake in the Hills. Elementary, my dear Walton. Elementary. Residents now expect Wal-Mart to try for a location half a mile down the road in the next village of Algonquin. Maybe kids need a school there?

What you can do: It's not unusual for developers to offer this kind of "deal sweetener" for a plan that otherwise might leave a bitter taste in a community. This story of Lake in the Hills is closely derivative of a story I put in my book, Slam Dunking Wal-Mart (p.80) about the town of Warrenton, Virginia. The developer in that case offered to donate a piece of his land for a new elementary school. Wal-Mart's lawyer then explained that if the town did not extend water and sewer to the site, that Wal-Mart would have to use the donated land as a septic field instead, and would have to back out on the school plan. "I feel like I'm being held hostage," one Warrenton resident said. "More important, I feel like my kids are being held hostage." In Warrenton, the sweetener worked. The Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to give the developer a sewer connection. One Supervisor, who was the key vote, told the public: "We need to get our education moving forward." But in Lake in the Hills, Wal-Mart didn't do its homework.










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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