ABC News in Chattanooga reports that construction workers in Chattanooga, Tennessee found more than they bargained for when they showed up for work this week. Members of the environmental group Earth First showed their displeasure with Wal-Mart by chaining themselves to construction equipment.”We’re participating in some civil disobedience,” said one member of Katuah Earth First. “We do not want this Super Wal-Mart.” Roughly a dozen people came to the construction site to protest the store. Construction workers called police. Police charged those who did not leave voluntarily with criminal tresspass. Three or four of the group were taken to jail. Fire fighters had to be called in to coax one person off the backhoe. One member told ABC news: “Civil disobedience is what this country was founded on first of all. I mean, if we didn’t have the Boston tea party, we’d still be running around in red coats with British accents.” The direct action was designed to dramatize the concern that a new Wal-Mart would destroy greenspace. Chattanooga city council members have told the media that there’s no legal way to stop Wal-Mart from coming — as if the store was some kind of government mandate or tax.
Of course there are ways to stop Wal-Mart — many avenues for using zoning to object to the size, scale and impact of a store. When public officials hide behind this “we’re powerless to stop them” attitude — as if Wal-Mart was a plague of insects — they are usually disguising their real belief that the store will mean revenues for their town. Even though they often have no independent documentation of the financial impact, they say things like:”If they meet all our requirements, there’s nothing we can do.” Usually, the zoning code HAS things they can do, but officials either don’t know, or don’t want to know, how to use zoning regulations to determine the size, location and use of property. If Chattanooga officials feel powerless to stop unwanted development, then it’s time to stop the Chattanooga choo-choo and impose a moratorium on large scale box development, and enact a limit on the dimensions of buildings. THAT would throw Wal-Mart from the Chattanooga train.