The City of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin is located on the Door County peninsula approximately 45 miles northeast of Green Bay. As of 2000, the population of Sturgeon Bay was around 10,000 people. The city says its known for its “high quality of life and traditional downtown.” It also happens to have a 65,630 s.f Wal-Mart discount store on Egg Harbor Road which contributes to neither the quality of life, nor the downtown. City officials had the chance to stop a Wal-Mart superstore with a one sentence zoning ordinance amendment capping the size of buildings. But City Aldermen on August 7th voted not to adopt a size cap — even though a cap had been recommended by the city’s Plan Commission back in May of 2006. The Plan Commission also approved the idea of requiring large stores to conduct a fiscal impact study. The zoning amendment would have capped the size of retail stores at 115,000 s.f. — about the size of two football fields. The Aldermen voted 5-2 to reject the cap, which had been supported by a citizen’s group called Door County Residents for Fair Enterprise (DCRFE). While the city was considering ordinance changes, there was a moratorium on processing of big box stores. Wal-Mart let it be known that they will apply for a superstore as soon as the building moratorium is lifted on August 27th, and if the cap was defeated. “We don’t want an arbitrary size cap,” Wal-Mart said before the Alderman’s vote. “If we can get an appropriate store size, if the city has requests, we’re willing to consider anything they want.” This week, the Aldermen met and approved a fiscal impact study requirement, but dumped the cap idea. This opens the door for Wal-Mart to apply for a 184,000 s.f. superstore — nearly three times the size of their existing store, which will close. But first, Wal-Mart must apply for an annexation, a zoning change from agricultural to commercial, and a conditional use permit — none of which is an entitlement — and both could be legally challenged. But there are other signficant problems ahead. The land Wal-Mart wants is not yet under their control. They are negotiating to buy property behind their current Egg Harbor Road site. If Sturgeon Bay agrees to annexation, the land would be removed from the town of Sevastopol, but their school district would get some of the tax benefits. “We need the tax revenue from Wal-Mart if we’re going to continue to pave our roads and continue city services,” a Sturgeon Bay Alderman told the Green Bay Press Gazette. “The first negotiations I would do with Wal-Mart, would be to switch where they want to put the parking lot and the building.” But Alderman Jim Michaud wishes the cap had passed. “The thing that bothers me most is that I’ve seen the devastation in many small towns by not just Wal-Mart, but other large retail centers,” Michaud told the Press Gazette. “We can’t be everything to everybody. But I want to preserve the supermarkets we have. If Wal-Mart can limit its Supercenter to general merchandise, it would limit its competition with other city retailers and maybe sway my vote.”
But Wal-Mart is probably not concerned about swaying Michaud’s vote.
One opponent of the Wal-Mart supercenter urged residents in Sturgeon Bay to pack the new City Hall at the next public hearing on September 5th. “This is a huge deal,” she wrote, “and probably our last chance to change the course of this development! Commercial zoning of the Hopf property opens the door for large scale commercial development along that entire corridor of Hwy. 42. Once we open that door, there’ll be no closing it. As we drive into town, past what is now acres of fields, we’ll see some monster building, or cluster of buildings; buildings not in keeping with the county’s character; stores that our own will be unable to compete with; stores that threaten the livelihood of local businesses. Only the details will remain…Supercenter? Mall? Strip Mall?? And just think what a delight this will be to tourists coming to “get away” to Door County! How many more empty buildings do we need in Sturgeon Bay before our Council learns we don’t need this kind of development.” For readers who cannot get to Sturgeon Bay on September 5th, the next best action is to email Alderman Jim Michaud with the following message: “Thank you for supporting the size cap in Sturgeon Bay. Don’t let Wal-Mart bully the city for a zone change or annexation. You can refuse to annex, you can refuse to rezone. No one, including Wal-Mart, has a right to annexation or rezoning. Even though the cap is dead for now — you can vote down the project because of its adverse impacts on surrounding properties, on traffic, etc. Just look to your rezoning criteria to stop this project.”