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1999-12-13
Rockland, ME. Wal-Mart's "Plan B"

Rockland, Maine already has a Wal-Mart. Although no one in town was clamoring for a larger one -- that's exactly what Wal-Mart now wants to "give" the community. The existing store is 100,000 s.f., and was only built 7 years ago. Wal-Mart now has growing pains, and can't expand at its current site because of a wetlands problem. So Wal-Mart has decided to move ACROSS THE STREET from its "small" store, and take up another 21.5 acres of land with a parking lot for 1,000 cars! The supercenter is located just north of the Pen Bay Acres residential development, so the idea of jumping across the street does not sit well with neighbors. In addition, the land isn't zoned correctly, so Wal-Mart has to petition the city for a zone change from "transitional business", which does not allow retail, to commercial. Wal-Mart has also assured local officials that their "old" store, only constructed in 1992, would be leased to another business -- just like the 300+ other "available buildings" that Wal-Mart is trying to lease. Wal-Mart has more than 20 million square feet of empty stores today, and the Rockland Wal-Mart will just be added to the Real Estate department's list. In order to get local citizens to go along with this absurd agenda of emptying and moving stores from street to street, Wal-Mart's real estate agent added an interesting twist: he said Wal-Mart has a "Plan B" if the Rockland Plan does not come to fruition, but that the company preferred to remain in the city. This, of course, prompted City officials to proclaim that they were pleased Wal-Mart plans to stay in Rockland. One merchant told The Courier-Gazette newspaper: "I know its better to have Wal-Mart in your community than outside." As community opposition grows to their plan, Wal-Mart's Real Estate agent simply said: "We're sensitive to the feelings of neighbors."

What you can do: How many times have we seen Wal-Mart use the old "Plan B" strategy? Local officials fear that they will get the traffic and the downside of sprawl, while the next town over gets the tax revenues. Plan B works very effectively for Wal-Mart. It's veiled, it's indirect -- but local officials understand the danger. Take us in -- or we'll locate further out and hammer you anyway. Is this the proper criteria for judging a project: how do you escape with the least damage from a company? "If you don't want us," Wal-Mart is saying, "fine. We'll go next door and still be around." It has always struck me as a negative, threatening posture, this business of bringing up the Plan B. As long as communities refuse to do any regional planning, Wal-Mart does well to play one community off of another. So Rockland is urged to swallow the idea of a store jumping around from street to street, to spare itself the worst damage that the Big Corporation can produce. Local officials may not see the gun to the head, but they know its there. In the name of Plan B, some pretty irresponsible developments have been built. The Rockland expansion serves the convenience of Wal-Mart, but adds little or nothing to Rockland. Maybe Plan B isn't so bad after all. Be done with such companies who make their living waving around Plan B. Perhaps its better to have them out of town, after all. Some communities have created regional development zones that share new revenues from growth, so that one town is not robbed of a store to feed another town. That would end the "Plan B" strategy.










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

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