A proposal for a Wal-Mart supercenter in Lorain, Ohio has just been put on ice for the next five months. A group of residents who oppose the Wal-Mart on Cooper Foster Park Road collected enough signatures to put the issue up to a city-wide vote in November. This location has been a source of controversy for the past two years. The ballot issue will ask voters if the ordinance to rezone 37 acres on Cooper Foster Park Road shall be adopted. The Lorain City Council approved the zoning request by a 7-4 vote in April, but a ”no” vote on the ballot issue will overturn council’s action. The citizens collected 4,302 signatures, but only needed 1,443 to get on the ballot. Carnegie Development of Westlake wants to build a 149,551-s.f. store to lease to Wal-Mart. Residents who live near the proposed superstore have voiced concerns over noise, traffic and devaluation of their properties. ”Some people think it’s in the wrong place,” a lawyer for the group said. ”Some believe it’s bad for the city. The city should have negotiated better. The city sold out the residents.” City Councilors who voted for the rezoning claim it will bring in revenues and jobs — yet they have absolutely no independent verification of the real e3conomic impact of this store. One Councilman told The Morning Journal that he voted for jobs, because with Wal-Mart, ”It will be more than what we have now.” Purely speculation on his part. He also believes that Wal-Mart will make the existing Kmart more competitive, but neighbors say Wal-Mart will simply drive Kmart and small retail stores out of business, leaving Lorain with lost jobs and empty buildings. Residents say city officials and the developer ignored their requests for more buffers surrounding their homes, telling residents to “go jump in a lake.” The group says the city will not gain much in revenue. ”The city is willing to sell their soul to get scraps from the table,” they told the newspaper.
Because they were unwilling to deal with neighbors, the developer will now have to wait another half a year to see if their project has legs. Residents of Lorain should be forewarned now: Wal-Mart has been spending as much as $250,000 and more on such ballot questions. Even with such spending, Wal-Mart has lost key votes in many communities across the nation, but the corporation is not shy about trying to use its financial strength to buy votes. Full page newspaper ads, radio spots, direct mailings, telemarketing calls — these are the tools Wal-Mart needs to employ to win this rezoning. There are no campaign finance laws that regulate these ballot questions. Wal-Mart and the developer are free to spend as much money as they like, while local residents have bake sales to fight the richest retailer in the world. One group I met with this week in Connecticut is selling cloth frogs to raise money to battle Wal-Mart. The ballot process is thus wholly biased towards the big players, but residents in Lorain have this obvious truth behind them: Wal-Mart creates neither jobs nor revenues. They make nothing. They bring no added value to Lorain. They only sell items — and what they sell is already sold in Lorain by other merchants. So the vote in Lorain is not about jobs or taxes — it’s about destroying a residential neighborhood, it’s about increasing crime, its about redundant over-production of out of scale stores that don’t fit into the community. Now Wal-Mart will have to wait until at least November 8th. to try to buy its way into town. For earlier stories on this community, search Newsflash by “Lorain”, and for related stories about ballot questions, search by “vote”.