It didn’t take long for the news in Newport News, Virginia to spread: Wal-Mart withdrew its plans today to build a superstore in this community — and that’s the best news yet for many local opponents of the retailer. The local newspaper called the citizen response to Wal-Mart “blistering community opposition” which forced Wal-Mart out. “It’s over with,” Mayor Joe Frank told the Daily Press newspaper, after a meeting with Wal-Mart representatives. “They felt it was just not a project they wanted to pursue. You don’t put off the community you want to do business in.” The project needed a zone change, and Sprawl-Busters reported July 21st that the Newport News Planning Commission had rejected the plan on an 8-1 vote. Mayor Frank said that Wal-Mart “saw the writing on the wall, that the citizens were so opposed. They didn’t think they could win, so why antagonize the community?” Citizens organized quickly to fight the retailer, forming a group called the Peninsula Alliance for Responsible Development. “I can’t believe we won,” one resident told the Press. “You’re kidding. I have chills going down my back. Everyone told me you can’t fight city hall, but I said you have to fight even if you don’t win.” “I’m stunned. I’m really stunned,” another resident said. “I’m all weepy-eyed here. That is great news. There is going to be such a party. I think the community was 99% against this.” This Wal-Mart plan may be forgotten, but the company is not gone. It already has three stores in the lower peninsula. The Mayor told reporters “I also think the withdrawal was the right thing to do.”
As is customary, when Wal-Mart pulls out, they always suggest that they are looking at two or three other areas in the region, so Newport News may still find itself in the news in the future. Now is the time, therefore, for activists in the community to try and get a cap put on the size of retail buildings, or at least a development moratorium to keep the predatory superstores at bay. There is no reason why shopping centers have to be four times the size of a football field, and Newport News has already paid its dues to sprawling development. Anyone addicted to Wal-Mart doesn’t have to travel far to find one. For now, another community has slam-dunked Wal-Mart. The idea that these proposals are a “done deal” has been disproven by this impressive victory for community organizing in Virginia.