This is the story of a village in Wisconsin where people may think Wal-Mart sucks, but they’re likely to get a 176,305 s.f. supercenter anyway. On January 26, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that residents in the small community of Bellevue, Wisconsin had a big problem. This village of roughly 14,600 people just south of Green Bay, had a Wal-Mart supercenter thrown into its lap. The village, whose motto is “A Great Place To Grow,” had to decide if growth meant putting a Wal-Mart supercenter in its new business park. Many village residents pointed out that there are 3 Wal-Mart’s within 10 miles of Bellevue. There is a discount store and a superstore in Green Bay, and a second supercenter in De Pere. Apparently, no independent traffic studies, no impact on property valuations, and no economic impact studies were done on this project. At the January hearing, residents jammed into the Village board room to express their concern and dismay over the proposed store. Every single resident who testified on the plan, opposed it. No one testified in support. Neighbors expressed concerns over lost property values, low wage jobs, and impact on the rest of the business community. Some residents told Wal-Mart that instead of building a new superstore, they should go back and renovate their existing discount store on Main Street in Green Bay, which is roughly 3.5 miles from Bellevue. The Green Bay discount store is a sure bet for closure if the superstore is opened. Wal-Mart currently has 6 “dark stores” available or lease or sale in Wisconsin, for a total of 439,794 square feet of empty store space in the state. Village President Craig Beyl told the Press-Gazette that its going to be a tough decision for his small community. “The more feedback, the better the decision we can make,” he said. “We have three weeks to study it. We have a proposed vote February 13, so we’ll see what they will do about these problems.” The Village Board held their meeting on February 13th, and voted unanimously to approve Wal-Mart’s planned development district — once again in the face of strong citizen opposition. President Craig Beyl abstained from the vote, because he works at a competing grocery store. One Village Trustee said the Wal-Mart decision had to be made on facts, not emotion. “We have to go by our ordinances, not on emotion,” said Trustee Jill Bielinksi. “Public opinion is not reason enough to deny this. (Wal-Mart has) done what we’ve asked for over and above.” And Trustee Dave Kaster was even more blunt: “To say we voted down Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart sucks, that works on the playground, but it doesn’t work here.”
This Wal-Mart supercenter will waste 36 acres of land. The company is building “extensive berming and landscaping” to screen the store from neighbors, according to the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Neighbors will have to live with the store 24 hours, because the Village Board did not even attempt to limit operating hours. The media has been told that this property will create as much as $200,000 in property taxes for the village. But that’s a gross figure, not net. From that, subtract the property value currently paid, and subtract the cost of municipal services to this store, especially the cost of police and fire responses. Subtract also the lost revenue from other stores in the village, especially grocery stores. If even one area grocery store closes, it will put a major dent in projected gains from Wal-Mart. “We’re going to need some good tax base to keep our taxes lower,” said one village resident who sat on the site plan review commission. His dreams of keeping taxes lower is not going to happen. Bellevue gets no added value from this saturation of Wal-Mart supercenters. The retailer is also opening another supercenter less than four miles away in Green Bay. Because there already are two supercenters within minutes of this location, the Bellevue proposal is a missile aimed directly at existing grocery stores, and other retailers, like Target, in the area. The issues that residents raised were not ‘Wal-Mart sucks.’ They were asking legitimate questions about impact on property values, impact on traffic, impact on municipal costs. The Village took everything Wal-Mart said on face value. The fact that the store required “extensive berming” suggests that it is not compatible with nearby residential properties. Residents of Bellevue would do well to talk to a land use attorney about litigation, and carry this project to the next level of appeal. Local officials here did not do their homework, and that’s what sucks in Bellevue. Readers who wish to comment on Trustee Dave Kastner’s comments about “what works on the playground,” can call him at (920) 336-0221. And Trustee Jill Bielinksi, who said emotions were not enough to stop Wal-Mart, can be reached at (920) 863-6330. Residents have much more than emotions that they can bring up on appeal, and could stall this project for months if they challenge this shallow decision.