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2000-05-19
Decorah, IA. Wal-Mart on Hold

On December 19, 1998 in a "newsflash" report (see index), I reported on a visit I made to this community at the request of the Citizens for Responsible Development, who were trying to block a second Wal-Mart from coming to the city. The 172,000 s.f. supercenter plan has stirred up deep passions in this community of roughly 8,000 people. In April of 1999, the CRD took out a large ad in USA TODAY proclaiming that Wal-Mart was threatening to destroy "the prettiest little town in North America." Despite the fact that Wal-Mart already has a store in Decorah, they set their sights on a parcel of land in the floodplain of the Upper Iowa River, and the company has been swimming in controversy ever since. In the latest twist of the river, the Decorah Board of Adjustment this week voted 4-1 to deny a special exemption which would have allowed a small boat shop on the property to be relocated. Residents realized that if they blocked the boat shop relocation, they might be able to block Wal-Mart's development on the floodplain. The Board vote against the move means the Upper Iowa Marine shop cannot move about 100 feet to the north to accomodate the supercenter. Wal-Mart has purchased the boat business in order to make way for their proposal. After the vote, the Board Chairman told the Gazette newspaper: "I would hope that Wal-Mart would recognize the uniqueness of this community and want to work with the community, not against it. It's no fun to have enemies. We have to work together." The Board explained that if they said yes to moving this boat shop, they could not say no to Wal-Mart or any other developer. Local residents anticipate a legal appeal by Wal-Mart, but as the Board Chairman said: "We shouldn't be cowed by a threat of a lawsuit no matter how large a company it is." Board members pointed out that the real issue was development in the flood plain, not the logo on the business -- but Wal-Mart was referred to as "the elephant in the living room." More than 150 people attended the BOA hearing, many wearing "Decorah Says No Super Wal-Mart" stickers. Their attendance was noted by the Board. "Public interest is a great part of our deliberation," said another Board member. "We can reject any special exception that is not in the public's best interest. (This) request places further property in the flood plain at private and taxpayer expense. It raises levels of the river in areas beyond the protection of the levee." The Upper Iowa River has been designated a Protected Water Area, something apparently Wal-Mart has chosen to ignore or disregard. Before Wal-Mart's site plan can be reviewed by the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council, it must first receive approval from the Board of Adjustment. Without a floodplain special exception, it looks like Wal-Mart's plans in Decorah are all wet.

What you can do: To find out how you can help the Decorah effort to sink Wal-Mart and save the Upper Iowa River, contact info@sprawl-busters.com. The Wal-Mart debate, by the way, has spilled over into local politics. In last year's city elections, in two out of the three races on the ballot, two seats were taken by candidates opposed to the Wal-Mart development.










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

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