Build one, and tear one down — there’s no real gain from a North Carolina developer’s plan to build an enormous, 518,205 s.f. retail mall in the tiny township of Straban, Pennsylvania, 2007 population of 5,046. Clearly a community this size does not need a supercenter, so the store will have to draw from a larger regional area. But there are already 5 Wal-Marts within 15 miles of Straban, including two supercenters in Pittsburg and West Mifflin. The developer, Faison, is used to submitting useless projects. Faison is the same developer who is looking for a $500,000 public handout to give Charlotte, North Carolina its 9th Wal-Mart. The project in Straban is equally useless, since the township already has a Wal-Mart discount store, which will be sold, just down the road from the proposed site. According to the developer, Wal-Mart wants to get out of their existing building, which is 20 years old. “They’d like to just upgrade what’s probably an old facility for them,” a spokesman for Faison told the York Daily Record. The “old” Wal-Mart has not been put up for sale or lease yet. Faison’s land includes 72 acres northwest of Route 15 near historic Gettysburg. The Wal-Mart supercenter would be 206,000 s.f. The project would also feature a BJ’s Wholesale Club. Before moving further with the project, Faison has to go to the township’s zoning hearing board for a special exception to build a shopping center, which is an allowed use in the township’s economic district, but Faison has to demonstrate that it meets the criteria of the zoning ordinance. On September 16th, Faison made its first visit to the zoning board. According to the York Record, around 40 people attended the hearing, and 6 township residents were granted the right to cross-examine witnesses during the hearings. A Hampton Inn near the project was also granted “standing” in the case. Faison had approached the town last winter with a mall proposal, but pulled their application from consideration last February. At that time, Faison carefully avoided mentioning that the anchor tenant in their plan would be a Wal-Mart. Six months later, in July, 2008, Faison submitted the plan again, but this time the big box stores were identified. Very few changes were made from the original plan submitted. The zoning board will take up the case again on October 8th and October 20th. Township zoning officer Bob Coleman said Faison is now asking for several variances in addition to the special exception.
Readers are urged to email Straban Board of Supervisors Chairman Troy Martin at http://www.strabantownship.com/str_contact.php, or call: (717) 334-4833 with the following message: “Chairman Martin, I don’t see any real added value to the Faison Wal-Mart proposal for Straban. You know that with a population well under 6,000 people, that there is no way you need a superstore the size of 4 football fields. Straban already has 5 Wal-Mart stores within 15 miles — including two supercenters. All you gain from this project is another grocery store, which will take most of its sales from the existing grocery stores in the Straban trade area. Also on the negative side, you get a Wal-Mart discount store that will be shut down, and will be added to the 200 “ghost boxes” that Wal-Mart is already carrying on its books. These stores are often not easy to reuse, because other companies would prefer their own new building instead of an “old” Wal-Mart cast off. In Tyler, Texas, for example, they have found no productive use for their ‘dead’ Wal-Mart — so they used it recently to house 3,000 evacuees from Hurricane Ike. As part of any developer’s agreement, you should insist that Wal-Mart or Faison post an escrow account to pay for the cost of tearing down the ‘old’ Wal-Mart if it sits empty for more than 12 months. But you have the right to reject the special exception for a shopping center use. It’s not mandated that you approve a special exception — and Wal-Mart gets no special deals just because they are very big. The Faison proposal is just sprawl — plain and simple. Make Wal-Mart fit the scale of Straban, not the reverse. You don’t need this project, and all it will do in Straban is increase the traffic and the crime in your township, with little or no net gain in jobs or revenues. You can’t buy small town quality of life at any Wal-Mart, and once they take it from you, you can’t buy it back at any price. One Wal-Mart in Straban is one more than enough. Please urge your zoning hearing board to reject this application.”