Historic Charleston, South Carolina, with its reputation as a gem of the south, has kept its character while sweeping undesirable projects onto James Island. According to the Charleston Post and Courier, residents on James Island do not want to be on the receiving end of a Wal-Mart supercenter, and are organizing to stop it. They have formed a group called I.R.E., which stands for Islanders for Reasonable Expansion. They don’t consider a 175,000 s.f. superstore to be reasonable. The store, ironically, would be built right next to the existing Wal-Mart discount store, which would then be torn down. Both locations, appropriately enough, are on Folly Road. In February, the Charleston Board of Zoning Appeals gave Wal-Mart permission to cut down 30 “grand trees,” which are labeled such because of their girth. Residents responded angrily, and pointed out that the store will require the paving over of several acres of wetlands. I.R.E. is sponsoring a public meeting on the Wal-Mart project. Residents on James Island told Sprawl-Busters that folks are not experienced in running a grass roots campaign before, but are upset by this over-sized plan. They have begun an online petition drive against the store, and will gather on March 11th to strategize. I.R.E. is especially unhappy about the fact that the 3 acres of wetlands that Wal-Mart needs for its project are owned by the city, and the Charleston City Council is willing to sell the land. Wal-Mart must also get the approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. To get their hands on the wetlands, Wal-Mart has made a deal with local environmental groups. Wal-Mart says it will buy 10 acres of wetlands on James Island and preserve it — but only if they are allowed to buy the 3 acres of wetlands they want to destroy for their store. The Coastal Conservation League, which should be protecting these 3 acres, is apparently prepared to take its 10 acres and leave the neighbors on Folly Road with Wal-Mart’s Super Folly. The CCL is expected to support the superstore, as long as it gets the 10 acres preserved.
Instead of protecting the 3 acres of wetland, and asking Wal-Mart to buy another 10 acres and preserve it, the Conservation League is lining up against the residents of James Island. As of today, I.R.E. has 379 signatures on its petition, which reads: “Stop the proposed building of a Wal-Mart Super Center on Folly Road. Wal-Mart has applied to fill in over 3 acres of wetlands and destroy more than 30 grand trees. Ask Wal-Mart to be a responsible community partner and preserve the natural beauty of James Island. Sign the petition to ask City Council and the Army Corp of Engineers to deny permits for the new Wal-Mart Super Center.” Readers are urged to go to http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/islanders-for-responsible-expansion, and add your name to the petition. But I.R.E. will not stop this store with a petition alone. They will need a land use lawyer, and a wetlands scientist. Sprawl-Busters recommends that readers send an email to the Clerk of the City council. There are 12 city councilors in Charleston. They can be reached at [email protected] . Email them this message: “Dear Charleston City Councilors, Don’t create a second folly on Folly Road. The one Wal-Mart you have on James Island is one more than enough. There is no market need for what amounts to just another grocery store — because everything else the superstore has is already carried by the Wal-Mart. You will end up with a dead store to dispose of — and no added value to your economy. Charleston justifiably boasts of its historic ambiance, but many people on James Island feel like Charleston dumps unwanted projects on the island. You are not required to sell wetlands to Wal-Mart, and you should not be bribed by Wal-Mart’s offer to protect other wetlands elsewhere. Respect the wishes of James Island, and leave them with their one Wal-Mart — which is sprawl enough.”