The Albemarle Planning Commission has to reject the findings of its own Planning staff in order to give a green light to a developer who wants to build a 275,000 s.f. mall just over the line from Charlottesville. The City Council isn’t too pleased with the plan, and the Mayor of Charlottesville has suggested that the County join them in conducting an economic impact statement to fathom the real truth about what kind of revenue this project would net out for the area. It’s a classic case of lines on a map making all the difference in the world. The county reaps whatever revenue the mall generates, the city provides the roads that lead to the mall. The County collects the fare, the city gets the wear and tear. To keep the soccder moms happy, the developer has offered to throw in a soccer field to make the mall more palatable, but so far area residents have come out of the woodwork to the public hearings in opposition to the Wal-Mart. The only thing a larger Wal-Mart offers Charlottesville is groceries. And right across the street from the proposed mall is a Food Lion, and other groceries abound not too far away. But Wal-Mart needs more space to become top banana. It’s all about market share, not about need for more square footage. The developer says he wants to create a “new town center” for Charlottesville, which sums up the problem: The city can’t support two town centers. One will only capture revenue from another. County Commission staff have recommended that the industrially zoned parcel Wal-Mart covets be used instead for a mixed use development of residential, commercial, and office space. Residents have been showing up to hearings wearing yellow “No Big Box” ribbons, reminding local officials that Charlottesville does not want to become another Fairfax County. It’s a lesson that Virginia has been slow to learn. Just ask people in Woodstock, Fredericksburg, or Warrenton, or any of the other communities in the state that waged battles against Wal-Mart. This project makes perfect sense in Bentonville, but little sense for the future quality of life of Charlottesville. So what kind of town has 2 Wal-Marts? Hopefully the people of Charlottesville will never find out.
The next step is up to the Albemarle Planning Commission. To let the Commission know how you feel about Virginia sprawl, call the Commission Chairman Bill Finley at 802-978-1409. The final decision will rest with the Albemarle County Supervisors. Let’s hope they remember the words of Charlottesville Mayor Virginia Daugherty: “Ultimately, we have to wonder what kind of a town has two Wal-Mart’s anyway?”