Wal-Mart already has a superstore on Old Boynton Road in Boynton Beach, Florida. There are 16 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Boynton Beach, including 7 supercenters. This east coast strip of Florida looks like its been riddled with Wal-Mart locations from West Palm Beach south to Coral Springs. Little wonder then that many residents in this city of roughly 69,000 people have had enough of China Mart. This week, according to the Palm Beach Post, the Boynton Beach City Commissioners ignored the impassioned pleas of area residents to reject a proposed 93,000 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore on the southern end of the city. Residents from Boynton and several surrounding towns all came to protest the unnecessary store. Boynton Beach Mayor Jerry Taylor told residents from out of town that they had no vote in the matter. The Mayor, of course, would welcome their shopping dollars — but not their opinions. There were so many people crowded into the hearing room that it became a standing room only event. The city’s lawyer at one point had to warn the rowdy residents that if they didn’t quiet down he would have them ejected. But despite all the noise, the City Commissioners turned a deaf ear to the residents’ needs. Citizens were especially upset with the retailer’s plan to stay open 24 hours a day — a proposal that Wal-Mart refused to change. Residents said 24/7 operations would be an invitation to crime. Given the rash of murders and suicides in recent weeks in Wal-Mart parking lots, the concern over crime appeared well-founded. Opponents of the store were also upset by the specter of more truck traffic, and the uninviting appearance of the store itself. According to the Post, the City Commissioners were asked to be more deliberate about this project, and give it a longer, more careful review. “You should listen to the residents and take a step back and incorporate some of their suggestions,” one Boynton Beach resident was quoted as saying. The debate continued almost until midnight, when the Commissioners granted Wal-Mart four variances from the city’s zoning code — in effect making Boynton Beach fit Wal-Mart, rather than the reverse.
The Commissioners are insisting that Wal-Mart make certain “aesthetic changes” to the store’s appearance, according to the Post. City officials also want Wal-Mart to hold a job fair so that local residents would be able to apply for the 150 ‘new’ jobs that Wal-Mart promised were coming.
Unfortunately, the Mayor and City Commissioners are economically illiterate. No one has warned them that this project will produce a negligible impact economically on Boynton Beach, because most of Wal-Mart’s sales will come from existing cash registers in the city — including the existing Wal-Mart supercenter in Boynton Beach. Wal-Mart does not represent added value to the local economy, but simply a form of retail musical chairs. This Wal-Mart decision is inconsistent with the city’s 2008 Comprehensive Plan for land use. The first Goal in that Plan calls for “minimizing land use conflicts, maintaining the character of the community,” neither of which another Wal-Mart does. One of the city’s land use objectives is to “discourage the proliferation of urban sprawl and… facilitate a compact urban development pattern that provides opportunities to more efficiently use and develop infrastructure, land, and other resources and services.” The city’s land use policies talk about “continuous promotion of compact developments,” and “requiring, in all future development and redevelopment in the City, land use patterns that are non-strip in nature and demonstrate the ability to attract and encourage a functional mix of uses.” Another policy instructs the city to “actively work toward the elimination of uses that are incompatible with surrounding uses.” Readers are urged to email Boynton Beach Mayor Jerry Taylor at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Taylor, Your city does not need two Wal-Mart supercenters. Not only will they cannibalize each other — but they will crowd out other smaller businesses, leaving you with little to show for new jobs once the second store opens. Most of Wal-Mart’s sales will come from other merchants. What happened to your city’s Comp Plan commitment to ‘discourage the proliferation of urban sprawl?’ This project is 100% sprawl, and will continue to erode the character of your surrounding neighborhoods. These huge projects create land use conflicts. Just look at the reaction to this week’s meeting on Wal-Mart. Your message to neighboring towns was: ‘we’ll gladly take your money but please spare us your opinions.’ This Wal-Mart decision will be one of the biggest mistakes in your tenure as Mayor. I hope Boynton Beach residents consider litigating this decision, because Boynton Beach is turning into Walton Beach.”