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2002-03-04
Union County, NC. Wal-Mart, the Nightmare Neighbor

Residents in Union County, North Carolina, the state with the 10th. highest number of dead Wal-Mart's, are fighting a 200,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter, which has become the neighbors' worse nightmare. About 4 months ago, neighbors started seeing bulldozers clearing the 31 acres lot behind the Somerset and Hunter Oaks residential subdivision. One neighbor, Lisa Murphy, had just moved into her 3,000 square foot "dream home" last April -- a home valued at more than a quarter of a million dollars. Her development, Somerset, was billed as a "master planned" community, with open sapce, a wetlands, trails, and other amenities of residential life. But behind this "dream" community was commercially zoned acreage. But neighbors say that the real estate agents assured them the open land had a wetlands on it, and could only sustain something small, like a day care center, or a small specialty mall. Now that the Wal-Mart is out of the bag, new home sales have fallen lower than the price on a cheap pair of underwear at Wal-Mart. According to the Charlotte Observer, 35 lots are unsold, and at least 3 sales fell through once people learned the truth about who was moving onto the wooded lot. In addition to misleading homeowners, real estate developers failed to comply with Union County's comprehensive land use plan, which called for this lot to have only 'neighborhood-scale shopping' under 120,000 s.f. The developer, First Carolina Investors, asked Union County to be grandfathered in under the old zoning code, which existed before last May, and had no size cap in place. The County's land use administrator said yes, which neighbors say was an arbitrary and capricious decision which violated the land use plan. Citzens have appealed the decision, and the case is expected to reach the Zoning Board of Appeals byi April.Wal-Mart, for their part, have only offered to put a tuxedo on their monster: a 10 foot sound wall, and some add-on landscaping and screening. And typically, Wal-Mart offers to tweak its standard design to make this store a "special" model. But the neighbors can see past the facade, and know the nightmare that lies ahead if the county is able to change the rules for Wal-Mart. Charlotte Obserer editorial writer Mary Newsom summed it up by saying: "Stores that large simply can't be good neighbors, no matter what they promise." Lisa Murphy told the newspaper her reaction when she first got wind of Wal-Mart:"Just looking at the plans made me start bawling,"

What you can do: Union County clearly did not contemplate anything larger than 120,000 s.f. on this site. It's not in the land use plan, it's not in the zoning code -- both of which Wal-Mart and the developer knew. They asked for special dispensation to exceed the cap -- to the detriment of local homeowners. The county betrayed its own residents, who made substantial investments in the county when they purchased their homes. This story of deception has become all too common. Search this database by "Lake Charles" and "Prairieville" for recent examples of similar 'nightmares for neighbors'.For more info on the Union County battle, contact Lisa Murphy at www.cfsgfund.com










 
 
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