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1998-09-04
Harrisonburg, VA. Wal-Mart's Pipe Dream

At first no one would reveal who the mystery tenant was that wanted 29 acres of land in Rockingham County, VA. The developer, a South Carolina company, provided no clue as to who the 151,980 s.f. tenant would be in their proposed development on land that is zoned agricultural and industrial. The local newspapers tried for days to get the developer to "unveil" its tenant. Even before the project has received its rezoning approval and special permit OK, the Town Council of Dayton has already accomodated the project by votinig to enlarge a water line from 8 to 12 inches to the development site. Dayton Mayor Edgar Bartley said county officials would pay for the pipe enlargement (at taxpayer's expense). The Mayor would not name the retailer involved, saying only: "It has something to do with a retailer, but I can't say exactly what. We've heard rumors." The Mayor said the pipe resizing was done in advance of project approvals because "you don't do something after the fact, you do it before the fact...It's not a big deal -- a resized pipe is all it amounted to. It will go to our town limits, and if anybody wants it, they've got to hook on and do theirs on the county side." The next day's Daily News Recorder ended the rumors about whose pipe was being widened: "Wal-Mart Finds a New Location" ran the story on August 14th. The same article also quoted "an unidentified employee of the nearby Valley Mall as saying Wal-Mart "won't keep this store open" if a new Wal-Mart superstore is built.The Wal-Mart already in the area has only been there since 1991, but according to newspaper reports, rumors about a possible closure of the store have circulated "almost since the chain retail discount store arrived in Harrisonburg" seven years ago. Most Wal-Mart supercenters are built very close to an existing Wal-Mart discount store, and then Wal-Mart closes the discount store down. As soon as the rumors of a closing Wal-Mart hit the papers, the company's regional manager denied the rumor: "The new store will have absolutely no impact whatsoever on the Wal-Mart store at Valley Mall. We plan to operate the store just as we always have." Although Wal-Mart officials claim they have "never even considered" closing their existing store, the record shows that there are fewer Wal-Mart discount stores today than last year, as the smaller stores are replaced by the supercenters. This means Harrisonburg is being asked to rezone valuable industrial and agricultural land just to allow Wal-Mart to build a bigger store in the shadow of their "old" store, just barely seven years old. While this might be good for Wal-Mart's market share, it's just an economic pipe dream for Rockingham County, because economic displacement is all the supercenter will bring to the community. Hardly worth widening a water line for that.

What you can do: Let Rockingham County Administrator Bill O'Brien know that Wal-Mart communities like Harrisonburg gain nothing by allowing large corporations to keep shifting their assets from one side of town to another. You can reach O'Brien at 540-564-3000. Or write to him at: 20 East Gay St, Harrisonburg, VA 22801. Rezoning land is serious business. The industrial and agricultural land should not be rezoned for such a frivolous and unproductive use of land.










 
 
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