To understand the following story, its important to note that the city of Frisco, Texas already has a Wal-Mart supercenter. It also has two more Wal-Mart supercenters close by: 4 miles away in Plano, Texas, and 7 miles away in Mckinney, Texas. The 97,000 people who live in Frisco can find cheap Chinese merchandise just minutes away at several Wal-Mart superstores. But the Arkansas retailer is not done with Frisco. Sprawl-Busters reported on December 17, 2005 that the city council in Frisco had approved $2.5 million in tax breaks to bring in a Wal-Mart superstore. The 200,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter was described by the Frisco Enterprise newspaper as a “gold mine” for the city — even though no economic impact analysis was ever done. The City Manager told the newspaper that Wal-Mart would generate $50 million in annual sales, which is actually a very low figure for a store this size. Under the 2005 agreement, Frisco taxpayers gave up a half-cent sales tax break over the store’s first 10 years, equaling $250,000 per year. The city also gave away its thoroughfare, water, and sewer impact fees. Wal-Mart agreed to pay for the costs of upgrading the roadways near the site, including deceleration and turn lanes, median cuts, street lights, and traffic signals, amounting to about $702,000. But the retailer had to make such improvements in order to get traffic to their store, so these improvements serve only that retail site. The City Manager in the next town over, Little Elm, said he would have preferred having Wal-Mart in his town. “We’ll benefit tremendously from it,” the official said. “Certainly we would have preferred to have the sales tax benefit but we’ll get traffic from that (development) that will hit several (Little Elm) shops at that intersection.” Frisco’s director of planning and development told the newspaper that he had been working with the developer since 2004. “Our city is very fortunate Wal-Mart selected Frisco,” he said. Now residents in Frisco are battling to prevent Wal-Mart from selecting them again. The Dallas Morning News reports that on August 4th the Frisco City Council voted unanimously to approve a second 24-hour superstore in Frisco on Hickory Street, in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The store will be 184,985 s.f. on 22.5 acres of land. The hearing room was packed with more than 150 residents, including members of the citizen’s group Frisco First, which has opposed the second superstore since it first became public. The Council voted to have city staff prepare an ordinance to support a special use permit for Wal-Mart. The city is specifically rewriting its zoning ordinance for this company. “I believe by supporting this, I’m working for the betterment of Frisco,” council member Scott Johnson told the Morning News. More retail will be sited on the remaining 14 acres of land available. The neighbors were understandably upset that a store more than three times the size of a football field is being located close to residential homes. The site is currently zoned for up to a 70,000 sq ft big box, so the developer held a public meeting April 22, 2009, and subsequently submitted an application for a Special Use Permit in order to build a 184,985 sq ft Wal-Mart Supercenter on April 27. This store is more than twice the size of the cap the city had placed on this parcel. Because of the neighbor’s testimony, Wal-Mart agreed to move its store 25 feet further away from the homes, to build an 8 foot high sound wall, and to keep out truck deliveries between 10 pm and 6 am. City Councilor Bob Allen said this suburban sprawl would help create a “sustainable neighborhood” and give the older neighborhoods “a fresh and new approach,” according to the Morning News. “Overall these are things that get you the best deal that can be gotten,” Allen told neighbors. But the homeowners who formed the group Frisco First did not think Wal-Mart’s minor concessions were the ‘best deal’ at all. Opponent April Angele told the newspaper that city officials have been working “to make this poison pill easier to swallow. It’s a bad idea, no matter how you dress it up.” Former City Council member Tracie Reveal Shipman testified at the hearing that Frisco’s comprehensive plan does not allow a big-box retailer on a residential street. “There’s nothing unique enough about this Wal-Mart,” she said. “You promised in your campaigns that you would build on what’s here, not throw it away. I’m counting on you to build, not throw away.” Other residents urged the Council not to be swayed by the local neighbors who were against the superstore. “You need to consider the good of many,” one man testified, “and not the concerns of a few.”
Wal-Mart certainly does not need public welfare to build its stores, and the first Wal-Mart in Frisco was a poster child for Welfare for Wal-Mart. The use of public funds to subsidize Wal-Mart hurts the rest of the business community that did not receive any handouts, and which may be adversely affected by Wal-Mart. Local officials did not realize that retail projects are usually a zero sum game: open a Wal-Mart supercenter, close a couple of smaller grocery stores. In addition, as Wal-Mart opens more supercenters, it continues to abandon its discount stores. Texas has the distinction of being the state with the most “dead” Wal-Mart stores. The retailer uses the euphemistic term “dark stores” to describe buildings it has abandoned. Cities like Frisco and Little Elm help create more dark stores in Texas. A study in 2004 by Good Jobs First estimated that Wal-Mart gets more than $1 billion a year in welfare payments from local and state taxpayers, with little or no added value from Wal-Mart. Now the second Wal-Mart has stirred up controversy again, pitting homeowners against the giant retailer, and their own local officials. “We stood vigil at the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting as they discussed the Wal-Mart supercenter application,” the group Frisco First says on their website. “And, in spite of many naysayers who warned that our city’s officials simply give rubber stamp approval to business interests, there was meaningful discussion and, to the apparent surprise to many, especially Wal-Mart and their representatives, it was a tie vote needing resolution by the chairperson. We feel certain that our city council members do not share [the Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman’s] sentiments that our award winning comprehensive plan, which clearly outline the city’s plans for growth, is just a good idea that no one buys. More than 100,000 residents and large swaths of businesses bought this plan, and we must insist it not be ignored now.” But the City Council did ignore the Comprehensive Plan, and now the next move will be up to local residents. They will have to raise money for a legal appeal of the project. Frisco First points out that in the city’s Comp Plan, “in chapter after chapter, line after line, there is clear opposition to this Special Use Permit (SUP) application for a 185,000 sq ft supercenter at this location. Our city has zoned areas for BIG BOX development to encourage those areas’ selection for such a development as Wal-Mart is planning — no SUP required… Our own city leaders stated in the comprehensive plan that big box developments with large parking areas in front of them are not sustainable. For them to approve such a development screams of hypocrisy — today’s dollar gains trumping long term sustainability for the heart of Frisco, just like, according to the comprehensive plan, Plano, Richardson and Carrollton have done.” Frisco First says “Many neighbors… are firmly opposed to approval for a special use permit to increase the size of big box permitted in the neighborhood. Opposition stems from the immediate and negative impact such a development would have on the residences and roads behind the property, permanently damaging the neighborhood character of this well established area. These residents look forward to welcoming a responsible, smaller commercial development into the neighborhood, while carefully evaluating and working with the businesses located at the intersection of Hickory and Preston to mitigate possible traffic problems for the area. The current zoning for 70,000 sq feet is a substantial addition to the neighborhood; certainly, it is the largest feasible for such a location.” Readers are urged to email their support for Frisco First to [email protected], encouraging the group to find a good land use attorney and to appeal the City Council’s decision to ignore their land use plan and ignore the size limit that citizen’s were relying upon to protect the value of their homes, and the character of their community. Once again Frisco officials have sold out their own residents to build more sprawl in their illusory pursuit of another revenue ‘gold mine’ that never pans out.