On June 6, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that a developer had proposed building a 225,000 s.f. Wal-Mart Super Center on 22 acres on U.S. Route 13 in between Dover and Cheswold, Delaware, plus a 25,000 s.f. shopping center next to the Wal-Mart. The two developments would be located near a residential development on Simms Woods Road. There’s a Wal-Mart discount store in Dover, Delaware on North DuPont Highway just minutes away from this site, and a Wal-Mart supercenter in Camden, Delaware about 8 miles away. This is land that until December of 2004 was zoned agricultural/conservation/light industrial. In December 2004, at the request of a developer, the Levy Court agreed to rezone the land to general business to accommodate a big box store that was unnamed. But local residents opposed to Wal-Mart filed a lawsuit, and a Chancery Court judge ruled that the Levy Court had illegally approved the rezoning by resolution instead of by ordinance. The Levy Court went back and approved the rezoning in May of 2007. In February of 2008, Wal-Mart bought 22 acres of the land from the developer, and in June of 2008, the developer, Cheswold Village Properties, presented their Wal-Mart supercenter plans to the Kent County Regional Planning Commission. According to the Dover News Journal, the Commission “dressed down” the developer for not being better prepared. The Commission said they were not satisfied with the developer’s answers to concerns over flooding this huge project would cause for homeowners on Simms Woods Road. Commissioners also wanted Wal-Mart to assure them that this store would not be the typical ‘big blue box’ Wal-Mart. “First of all, there’s no way in the world I would want this next to my home,” Commission Vice Chairman Ken Edwards told the developer. The Commission also told Wal-Mart that they wanted an earthen berm built to block the view of home owners of the project. Commissioner Paul Davis said he wanted to see completed drainage plans and architectural rendering of the buildings’ fa??ade. “This thing is not going to be rushed through the county,” the News Journal quoted him as saying. “I like Wal-Mart, but I want it done right for the people.” Four months later, the Commissioners were doing it right for Wal-Mart. Instead of killing the project, which is too close to residential property, the Commissioners and Wal-Mart threw the neighbors a bone: the store will not be accessible from Simms Wood Road. The Commissioners this week signed off on the huge 22 acre project, and construction is expected to start by April of 2009, with a ribbon cutting early in 2010.
Neighbors worked to delay this project for four years. By doing so, they have cost Wal-Mart over $400 million in sales at that site. The citizens group also got a Chancery Court judge to validate their charge that the Levy Court had voted illegally to approve the store. The project never did win the support of the Regional Planning Commission, which agreed with neighbors that the project would increase flooding problems in the area, and change the character of their residential area. The people on Simms Woods Road didn’t want Wal-Mart “done right.” They didn’t want it done at all. This supercenter is almost the size of five football fields — totally incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood. When homeowners bought their property and built a home, this land was zoned for agricultural conservation or light industrial. These homeowners had every right to believe that they would not end up being neighbors to a Wal-Mart supercenter. There is no way to buffer the lights and the noise and the traffic that this massive project with generate. Given the fact that there is a supercenter already within an easy drive, and a discount store just minutes away, the County should never have approved 33 acres of open land to be paved with concrete for this project, which brings no added value economically to the community. The residents spoke clearly about their feelings on the project by taking it to court. The Regional Planning Commission backed the homeowners, but the Levy Court has let residents down for a second time. In 2007, Kent County began updating its Comprehensive Land Use Plan. The Vision Statement for Kent County says its goal is “to preserve the rural and community character of Kent County by encouraging the most appropriate use of land… ” The county wants to preserve farmland, manage growth and provide a safe, sustainable environment.” Readers are urged to email Bill Holmes, Chairman of the Kent County Regional Planning Commission at [email protected] with this message: “Dear Chairman Holmes, How could you say you wouldn’t want a Wal-Mart supercenter next door to your home — and then vote to let it open next to someone else’s home? The overarching goal of your County’s Comprehensive Plan is to protect your agricultural industry and natural resources from encroaching development. The themes of growth management and provision of adequate infrastructure are apparent throughout the plan. A huge, big box supercenter on Route 13 is incompatible with such a plan. This is not just about what the fa??ade of the building looks like. Your Plan also says that a broad base of manufacturing and higher end office employers in the county is needed to assure good paying jobs and an expanding tax base. As for retail projects, your Plan emphasizes that ‘promoting reuse and redevelopment of existing sites are a priority of the County to prevent sprawling nonresidential spaces and maintain attractive existing communities… while the retail and service segment is critical to a success of a local economy, it is not the most economically beneficial aspect. Over time, these businesses alone cannot maintain a successful local economy without also expanding the industrial and office space segments.’ This Wal-Mart project is suburban sprawl. There is a supercenter 8 miles away in Camden. I urge you not to let down your homeowners again. Instead, its time to begin work on capping the size of retail stores in the county — so you don’t create any more win/lose scenarios in Kent County.”