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1999-12-04
Exeter, NH. Store Size Limit Headed to Ballot

On November 3rd (see below) we reported that Wal-Mart's plans for a "wet" store in the wetlands of Stratham, NH were submerged by community opposition to the plan -- but that the Arkansas company was exploring various other sites in towns surrounding Stratham. According to the Foster's Democrat newspaper, Wal-Mart "quietly slipped a foot in the door" in neighboring Exeter, NH, by holding a meeting with town officials, members of the town's Economic Development Committee, and the Exeter Chamber of Commerce on December 2nd. It appears that despite the presence of these public officials, this was not a public meeting, and no notice of the meeting was posted at Town Hall. But public officials clearly met with Wal-Mart officials, and they weren't gathered just to discuss seacoast weather patterns. As in Stratham, citizens have now organized a group, called the Citizens for Smart Growth, to fend off any Wal-Mart plan. In fact, local residents have "burst onto the scene", according to the newspaper, with a citizen's petition to amend the town's zoning ordinance to limit the size of retail buildings in the C3 commercial district to no more than 65,000 s.f. Such a size cap would affect the property on Epping Road that Wal-Mart covets. According to Kathy Corson, who is helping to spearhead the new CSG, the size cap is not a response to one company, but will control commercial sprawl in Exeter in the future. The petition now takes the form of a warrant article on the spring ballot. Residents are already at work to get the Exeter Planning Board to endorse the article at its December 16th. meeting. According to Foster's newspaper, one member of the Planning staff said the meeting with Wal-Mart was not a public hearing, but "just an opportunity for people to get together with the town dpearmtnet and for the town department to get together with Wal-Mart." How cozy! Any town staff who attend such meetings are being paid by taxpayers to be there, and the "private" meeting with town officials and Wal-Mart may have violated open meeting law requirements. In the meantime, if past is prologue to the future, the residents of Exeter, NH can expect that soon Wal-Mart will create a pro-Wal-Mart group, and the company will begin pumping money in the form of ads, direct mail and phone canvassing to area voters in preparation for the March ballot question. In Eureka, CA, Wal-Mart spent more than a quarter of a million dollars chasing after votes. Despite such outlandish expenditures, Wal-Mart lost the ballot question in Eureka.

What you can do: Local residents should insist that Wal-Mart keep its Arkansas corporate checkbook in its pocket during the ballot campaign. Large corporations rely on the fact that citizen's groups may have the grassroots troops, but the corporations and developers have deep pockets.According to Corson, Wal-Mart now has to wait until March to pursue their application further. The zoning amendment must be taken up first before any further action. Wal-Mart's first action in most prior cases is to hire a Public Relations firm to begin developing a local campaign to defeat the size limit. The residents of Exeter will shortly be receiving multiple mailings and phone calls from people conducting "surveys" from Wal-Mart's "citizen" group. Such surveys are really just for voter ID, and help identify which voters may be willing to throw Wal-Mart a vote in March. Wal-Mart's campaign tactics are spelling out in my new book, "Slam Dunking Wal-Mart: How You Can Stop Superstore Sprawl in Your Hometown", which is not for sale at any Wal-Mart, but which can be ordered by calling toll free 1-877 DUNK WAL, or from amazon.com. Will Wal-Mart be able to buy their way into Exeter? Stay tuned...










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

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