Wal-Mart tried desperately to avoid the embarassment of defeat in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, by trying to withdraw its petition to rezone 25 acres to build a 223,000 s.f. supercenter on Reynolds Road. But the City Council, after nearly a year of contentious debate over the project, voted to kill the plans anyway. “If we grant a withdrawal of the petition, they could very well come back after 30 days so their case could be heard again or some variation of it,” one city councilor was quoted as saying by the Winston-Salem Journal. The proposed Wal-Mart was on commercial land, but it abutted several new and established neighborhoods. Wal-Mart decided to pull the plug on the project after talking to council members who had concerns about the project. “We were just told that this wasn’t the right place or the right time, and we respect the council’s wishes,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said. In other words, they counted heads and saw they didn’t have the votes. Reynolds Road residents testified that they would be adversely impacted by the increased traffic and noise, and adverse environmental effects, such as storm water runoff. “I do not believe we are in need of another Wal-Mart. We have one five miles away and four grocery stores in the immediate area,” one neighbor told city officials. Neighboring property owners submitted a petition to the City Council objecting to the project. Because the petition was signed by more than 20% of the neighboring property owners, the rezoning vote would have required a two-thirds vote to pass, or 6 out of 8 councilors. Three negative votes would kill the project, so Wal-Mart saw the writing on the WAL and tried to avoid a losing vote by withdrawing. “This is not the right place for a Wal-Mart,” one councilor asserted. Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines told the Journal, “Winston-Salem is not against development, it’s in favor of good development in the right location. We want to make sure it’s the appropriate place.” And just to prove that the city had no hard feelings against Wal-Mart, about two weeks later, the City Council approved Wal-Mart’s plans to build a 203,000 s.f. store on Peters Creek Parkway.
One neighborhood wins, one neighborhood loses. Wal-Mart scatters its projects like seeds, hoping that if one seed dies, another nearby will germinate. When Wal-Mart says it will build 240 new supercenters this year, it may have to propose 320 stores or more, given the denial rate and opposition is it sure to encounter. In the case of Winston-Salem, they filed two plans, and walked away with one.