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2002-02-18
Prairieville, LA. Wal-Mart Rezoning Called "Greed"

Wal-Mart's effort to land on Airline Highway in the community of Prairieville, Louisiana, has hit some turbulence. According to The Advocate newspaper, opponents of the Wal-Mart worry that traffic at the location will snarl, that property values will plummet, plus crime and the water table will rise. Several days ago, local homeowners from a couple of subdivisions passed out an estimated 300 information packets to passing motorists on Airline Highway who were queued in traffic gridlock. Inside were letters addressed to the Ascension Parish Council, urging them to vote against rezoning land for Wal-Mart. "You think the traffic is bad now, wait until the Wal-Mart comes," one homeowner told a driver in a van. Currently, Louisiana has 18 dead Wal-Mart stores, the result of the company moving out of its "smaller" stores into supercenters. Louisiana has the 5th.highest number of empty stores, with 2.6 million square feet of buildings -- one third of which were on the "available" list 3 years ago. Most of these empty stores in Louisiana are only leased by Wal-Mart. Yet the company keeps building more stores, even as it empties out others. Wal-Mart apparently has a "conditional agreement" to buy a 35-acre tract. Homeowners in the Magnolia Oaks and Belle Grove subdivisions have erected lawnsigns that read: "Save Our Property Values. No Rezone. No Wal-Mart." The Advocate newspaper quotes the area's State Senator, Louis J. Lambert Jr., as calling the Wal-Mart proposal "absurd, frankly," because of the enormous traffic congestion already in the area. "I don't understand how this makes sense for them, unless they simply don't care if they create a serious traffic problem. It seems they just want to locate where they want to and let the local people fix the problem," Lambert said. "I don't see why they need a Wal-Mart every five miles," Gonzales Mayor Johnny Berthelot, told the newspaper. "There's going to be a draw (of revenue) against somebody if they build it. Somebody's going to get hurt," he said. Parish Councilman Martin McConnell, who represents Gonzales, said "it seems like they are going to be in competition with themselves." This, in fact, is exactly what Sam Walton wanted; "We became our own competition," Walton wrote in his autobiography. Because of the local outcry against the project, Parish Councilman Dudley Brown, convinced the council to approve an independent study of the entire northern part of the parish, including traffic, drainage and economic impact. Parish Council President Harold Marchand enigmatically told the paper "I love Wal-Mart, but I'm for the people." The fact remains, the land that Wal-Mart wants is not zoned correctly. Like many highway properties, the land along Airline Highway is commercially zoned, but only 660 feet back from the road. As in the recent case of Canton, Connecticut (see newsflash), the developer needs to get approval to rezone the rear part of the property from medium intensity residential to commercial. In Canton, the city refused to do that, noting the negative impact it would have on surrounding property values. One resident in Prairieville claims that Wal-Mart's real estate agent warned her against opposing Wal-Mart's rezoning, because neighbors might end up with no concessions by the company. "I said, 'You mean if we ask that our zoning be upheld, you'll cram it down our throats?'" the neighbor recounted. In a number of these rezoning cases, including the Canton case, real estate appraisers said residential values would fall if a superstore were built. "If you can see it and if you can hear it," a real estate appraiser told The Advocate, a commercial development will lower residential property values. Wal-Mart's attorney has said publicly that he thinks drainage in the area is a bigger problem than traffic, but that's because Wal-Mart will have its engineers present a plan that mitigates any drainage issues. "We believe our improvements will enhance the drainage in the area," the attorney said. Although Wal-Mart has suggested that the Parish and the state will get $4 million each in new sales tax revenue, some local officials think those figures are just voodoo economics. "Some of the small business people see Wal-Mart as just another way of putting them out of. business, and that is what it is. You're just going to wind up swapping tax dollars," noted Parish Councilman Shafter Kling. "They're greedy. I am really against them putting in a gasoline station. They will put our smaller stations out of business."

What you can do: I always remind neighbors that rezoning of land is a discretionary act, not a mandate. Wal-Mart has no right to get land rezoned. They can read a zoning map as well as anyone. If they can't find commercially zoned land, they can keep up the search until they do. The zoning principle should be: do no harm to surrounding values. For more information about the Prairieville battle, contact info@sprawl-busters.com.










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

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