Rapid City, South Dakota hosts more than 2 million visitors each year who come to see Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse, the Badlands and the Black Hills National Forest. But when they get to Rapid City, what they will see on the landscape is suburban sprawl, Wal-Mart style.
On March 5, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had suddenly withdrawn its plans to build a second supercenter in Rapid City. Their withdrawal followed a couple of weeks on the heels of a rejection by the Planning Commission in Rapid City. The Commission acted rapidly to turn down Wal-Mart’s request to have a small piece of land rezoned for their project.
The Planning Commission voted 6-2 to keep the land zoned park forest, instead of general commercial. Wal-Mart needed this little piece of land to make its 79 acre shopping center a reality.
The Rapid City Council was going to get the final say on the rezoning at its March 3rd meeting. This process to permit the second Wal-Mart has been going on since October of 2006 — so after almost three and a half years, the rapid response Wal-Mart wanted has long since faded away.
Wal-Mart started off with this project five years ago, at a different location along Highway 16. The original site was taken to the voters of Rapid City, who voted in a referendum to approve the second supercenter.
But Wal-Mart had to withdraw its plans in July of 2006, because one abutting property owner, an orthopedic center, refused to grant the store a small easement for a road behind the store. Without the easement, the project died.
But the developer bounced back with a second site in December of 2006. The developer called this new asphalt and concrete sprawl the Dakota Canyon Market Place. The shopping center would actually sit on a hill, overlooking land set aside as the “Dakota Canyon Nature Preserve.” Neighbors to this out-of-scale project in the Enchanted Hills subdivision testified that the project would generate too much traffic, harm property values, and disrupt their residential quality of life. Homeowners in Enchanted Hills did not want to live beside a store almost the size of 4 football fields, which would be lit up and open all night long.
In March of 2008, neighbors rejoiced when they found out that they might not have to put up with this project at all. The Rapid City Journal reported that two Wal-Mart planning and zoning items were removed from the city council’s agenda at Wal-Mart’s request for “unknown reasons.” When one Enchanted Hills neighbor heard that Wal-Mart had pulled it plans, he replied, “I’m not going to come tonight. I think it would be a three-hour meeting for no reason. I think, for the time being, we’ll just wait until we hear something more. I’d be just as happy if they stuck a Kohl’s up there, and this went away.”
But Wal-Mart didn’t go away. This week, the Rapid City Journal reports that the City Council has voted unanimously to support the Planning Commission approval for a Wal-Mart development in yet another location near Fifth Street. But as a courtesy to the 4 new members of the City Council who are about to take office, the city will allow any of the new members to raise objections to the plan at the Council’s July 6th meeting. Such a challenge in unlikely, since the new Council members ran on a pro-Wal-Mart position.
The newspaper estimated that about 25 concerned residents showed up for this week’s Council meeting, reiterating their concerns over traffic, lighting, noise, and aesthetics.
The developer, THF Realty, of St. Louis, Missouri, is one of the largest Wal-Mart developers in the nation, and is owned by E. Stanley Kroenke, who married into the family of Bud Walton, Sam Walton’s brother. Kroenke is one of the richest people in America.
Kroenke’s team made some minor concessions to neighbors on such items as landscaping, but the project will have an adverse impact on the residential value of nearby homes. “We have a vision for what this project could be,” a spokesman for the developer said. “We’d like to see the South Robbinsdale community grow. We’d like to see this be the finest development in Rapid City.”
As a selling point, some neighbors spoke in favor of Wal-Mart, telling officials the “neighborhood could do a lot worse than Wal-Mart.” “Something commercial is going to be built along that strip” said one resident. “We know what Wal-Mart is. We’ll take the Wal-Mart.”
But do supporters really ‘know what Wal-Mart is?” One resident fighting the project was able to see through the landscaping ruse. “The majority of the homes in our neighborhood are elevated and will be subjected to all the sights and sounds of Wal-Mart,” she said.
Residents also insisted that Wal-Mart should not be allowed to stay open for 24 hours, given that other communities have prevented that from happening.
Another resident testified, “I just don’t feel that it is right that they would be placing a Supercenter in any residential area because of the traffic and the other issues they are talking about.”
But unless this decision is challenged, THF Realty will have two years to submit their plans for Planning Commission approval. If they get a green light, Wal-Mart’s neighbors in Rapid City are going to see a rapid deterioration in their quality of life.
Back in 2008, the developer left high and dry was Whittinham & Lestrange. Because of Stanley Kroenke’s family ties to Wal-Mart, the retailer would never back out of a THF project.
People in Rapid City today have no more than a one or two mile drive to the existing Wal-Mart supercenter. A second superstore adds no value to the city. In fact, the second store will merely compete with the first, and have a negative impact on other area grocery stores.
According to Rapid City Mayor Alan Hanks, “Rapid City is a vibrant and growing community of 60,000 progressive citizens.” It’s the Gateway to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. It’s only a matter of time before someone in the city suggests that Sam Walton’s face be added to Mount Rushmore.
Readers are urged to email the Mayor at: [email protected] with the following message: “Mayor Hanks and Council, Wal-Mart has had several false starts in Rapid City, but the fact is, you don’t need more suburban sprawl. Another supercenter will simply compete with the first, and force more existing grocery stores to close. You have more than 4,300 people employed in retail trade, about 15% of your workforce. Adding more big box stores will not create new jobs — just shift sales from existing cash registers.
Its up to your new Council members to ask for reconsideration, but it appears that economic illiteracy in Rapid City is a bigger problem than Wal-Mart.
Hopefully residents will challenge this vote in court, and prevent the Gateway to the Black Hills from becoming the Gateway to Wal-Mart Sprawl.”