Canfield, Ohio is a small community that has lost around 400 people since the year 2000. The township’s motto is: “A Nice Place to Call Home.” Wal-Mart has decided that Canfield would be a nice place to call home, too. The population stands now around 7,000 people. Located in Mahoning County at the intersection of Route 224 and Route 46, the township is about ten miles southwest of Youngstown. In 1992, the city of Canfield, which is surrounded completely by Canfield Township, voted to secede from the township. This created two separate governmental entities — one a city, the other a township. Canfield is a relatively affluent suburb, with strict zoning regulations that prohibit government housing, large signs, overgrown lawns, and above-ground pools. A tree-lined “Village Green” sits at the heart of the New England-style village. The idea of a Wal-Mart supercenter coming to the township does not sit well with many residents. There are already seven Wal-Marts within 23 miles of Canfield, including a discount store 5 miles away in Austintown, and a supercenter 9 miles away in Salem. Last week, according to the Vindicator newspaper, Wal-Mart put the township on notice that it was going to delay asking the county’s planning commission for a zoning change on 30 acres of land it wants for another supercenter — about half of which needs to be rezoned. In October, the giant retailer went to the planning commission — but when it became clear that the commission was going to vote against the zone change, Wal-Mart withdrew its petition. Wal-Mart then went to the township directly, to its zoning commission, and told local officials why the land should be rezoned from residential to commercial. Wal-Mart wanted officials in Canfield to approach the county to amend the land use plan to change the parcel to commercial. But the Canfield zoning commission told Wal-Mart to go back to the county planning commission, and once the county board had voted on it, the issue would move to the township commission — which would hold a public hearing. The final vote up or down on the rezoning would be made by the Township trustees. Wal-Mart could have been on next Tuesday’s planning commission’s agenda, but they failed to submit a zone change application on time. A spokesman for Wal-Mart said they want to submit a quality proposal, not a rushed one — which means they have not lined up their votes yet. But Township and city officials are saying that nearly everyone they talk to is against the store’s coming to Canfield. “Ninety-five percent or more don’t like the idea,” Andrew Skrobola, city council president told the Vindicator. “It would cause extreme traffic problems and a deterioration of competition.” Township Trustees said traffic on Route 224 is already a nightmare. They told the newspaper that Wal-Mart’s presentation to the township zoning board was vague. “It was as poor a presentation as you can get,” Trustee Paul Moracco said. “99.9 percent” of the people he met at the polls in the Nov. 6 election told him, unsolicited, that they are against the store’s coming here.
Wal-Mart is in a particularly weak position in this case. Local officials are under no requirement to rezone land for any developer. The land use plan says this land is supposed to be used for houses. There is no mandate that land be rezoned, and officials can simply say they want to keep the parcel residential to avoid the congestion that large scale commercial would bring. Canfield Township has three departments and seven full-time employees — four of whom work in the Roads Department. The township is governed by three Trustees. Readers are urged to call the Trustees Paul Moracco (330-318-4079), William Reese (330-533-7722) and Randy Brashen (330-799-3087) directly with the following message: “Canfield is a nice place to call home, but don’t let Wal-Mart call it home. You’ve already got more than enough Wal-Mart’s nearby, and most of the residents in the city and the township don’t want a superstore changing the character of Canfield. Wal-Mart has no right to a zone change. The traffic impacts are enough to reject their rezoning request. All they will bring you is more traffic, more crime and more empty storefronts.”