A controversial 1,000,000 s.f. Wal-Mart distribution center placed on the border of two counties has touched off a bitter battle between the two county governments. On August 26, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was in line for a series of financial “gifts” from Florida taxpayers in return for building a distribution center less than 4 miles south of Crescent City, Florida. The giant retailer sought to convince local officials that without public subsidies, their distribution center would never fly. It’s not remarkable that this huge company would try to act like a welfare recipient — but what is remarkable is that any city or town official would fall for that “poor mouth” routine. In Putnam County , Florida, Wal-Mart asked county taxpayers to pick up the cost of a $2 million road to their proposed distribution center in South Putnam. Wal-Mart wrote up a 60 page memorandum of understanding for the Putnam County Commissioners. The $2 million road will be called “New Crawford Road,” but it really should be called “Walton’s Welfare Way,” because it will give Wal-Mart trucks and workers direct access to the distribution center from U.S 17. Wal-Mart suggested the access road after opponents raised objections to truck traffic on Clifton Road adjacent to the site. Wal-Mart says the county would pay for the road with a $2 million “grant” from the state Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development. So state taxpayer’s are being clipped for the $2 million “grant.” Wal-Mart has even offered to loan $2 million to the county until the grant is obtained. If the road costs more than that, the memorandum says, the county would have to look for more sources of funds. If no other sources are found, Wal-Mart will pick up the difference. Even worse, county taxpayers will assume ongoing maintenance of the road, which will need significant maintenance because of the incessant heavy truck traffic. But there’s more. The Wal-Mart MOU with the county also requires that the county assist Wal-Mart in obtaining job training and job training funds through the Florida Workforce Investment Act and other programs. The county must also agree not to raise the property tax assessments on the property until the distribution center is completed. Wal-Mart is also in line for as much as $2.8 million under the state’s Qualified Target Industry grant as an “economic development project in a priority funding area.” If Wal-Mart guarantees 400 full time jobs, the company will also benefit from the county’s Job Incentive Program, under which the county will rebate Wal-Mart $280,000 per year after collecting a projected $380,000 per year in property taxes from the company. On September 28, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reporated that the Putnam County Commissioners had voted on two proposals concerning the Wal-Mart Distribution center. “They both passed by a vote of 4 to 1 as expected,” our resident told Sprawl-Busters. “Commissioner Ed Taylor was the lone dissenting vote on both proposals. One proposal changed the wording in the Comp Plan… and the other proposal has Wal-Mart funding the entry road (read private driveway) from US 17 to the proposed distribution center. What wasn’t made public was that the funds being given to Wal-Mart per the latest Memorandum of Understanding between the retailer and Putnam County, gives Wal-Mart $2.8 million from the state sales tax fund. There is no re-payment plan, so it is assumed that these monies will be a gift to Wal-Mart for them to build their own entry road. The $2.8 million is from the latest MOU between Wal-Mart and the county. It was never publicized because it spells out the $280,000 per year in property tax rebates Wal-Mart will get for 15 years, and the $2.8 million in state sales tax funds. The MOU never states what Wal-Mart will do with the money, but it is in the same MOU that Wal-Mart agrees to build their own driveway and not have the county build it for them. Of course the county still has to maintain the driveway, because it is called New Crawford Road and runs just north of where Crawford Road is today. I believe there is one residence on the road now. It is a single-lane dirt road and I do not think the county maintains it. The Palatka Daily News reported on September 24th. that city officials have now changed the growth management plan to fund the Wal-Mart road. They also signed an agreement with the state’s Department of Community Affairs that should bring the state on as a supporter. The County Commissioners claim the distribution facility will mean 400 to 600 news jobs.” “The hue and cry in our county is for jobs and for development,” Commission Chairman Hermon Somers Jr. told the Daily News. “It is a welcome improvement for the economic development of Putnam County.” Commissioner Brad Purcell added, “I have citizens out there who are hurting and need work.” Commissioner Taylor, who voted No, said the Wal-Mart warehouse will cause a “gigantic traffic nightmare” and that most of the center’s jobs will go to residents of Volusia County. Taylor also opposed the welfare payments to the world’s largest retailer. Attorney Michael Woodward of Interlachen, Florida, who has been retained by residents against the distribution center, said residents were not anti-job,”if you put this in places where they belong and they make sense, where it’s consistent with the comp plan. Or you put this in places they don’t belong, where they don’t make sense, where they turn people’s lives upside down, where they disrupt neighborhoods and where they’re not legal under the growth management laws of the state of Florida.” The warehouse will be a 850,000 s.f. food distribution center on 200 acres of land between Crescent City and the boundary line for Volusia County. Today, six months after our last report, the controversial warehouse facility is now in court. A group of residents, joined by neighboring Volusia County, filed a lawsuit to block the rezoning of 220 acres of potato farm to industrial. A Florida Administrative Law Judge is reviewing the case. Volusia County began its argument by asserting that Wal-Mart’s project violates the state’s rules against urban sprawl, but the judge ruled that this topic was outside the scope of the original petition. Putnam County defends its pro-Wal-Mart facility, and the state Department of Community Affairs is also siding with Putnam County, and against Volusia. At the hearing, one property owner who lives 350 feet from the distribution center site, told the judge that Wal-Mart will destroy her seven-generation family lifestyle. “We won’t have the peace and quiet that we currently have,” she testified. Opponents argued that there is no demonstrated need for the huge project, and that its use is industrial, and inappropriate for an agricultural area, which lacks proper water, sewer and road infrastructure. “It is located in an area remote to the working-age population, where if it were located in East Palatka or Palatka, it would be a better location for transportation to and from the site,” one attorney told the judge. “The provision of water and sewer services which is consistent with urban development is an extension of the site, and will seek to convert the area from rural to urban. Both truck and employment traffic will cross through the agricultural area from (U.S.) 17 to the subject property and cause intense traffic to and from the site, which is not in the character of the area.” Volusia County officials told WFTV that the distribution center will be 20 miles from the nearest instate highway, and that 450 trucks will drive in and out of the facility every day on Volusia roads. “Every five minutes (neighbors) will be looking at a trailer truck or have to follow a string of trailer trucks wherever they’re going to go,” the county official said. The hearings will last through the remainder of this week.
This Wal-Mart project has been in the headlines for at least three years. Sprawl-Busters first reported on this distribution center project on May 30, 2006, when we noted that a real estate consultant representing Wal-Mart had threatened homeowners in Crescent City that if they didn’t sell an easement or right of way onto their property to make way for the Wal-Mart Distribution Center, that the retailer was prepared to ask Putnam County officials to use eminent domain to get their land. As soon as that story hit the media, Wal-Mart headquarters quickly apologized to the neighbors. “We sincerely apologize for the tone of those letters and do not condone the actions and representations made by this third-party consultant,” Wal-Mart said. This project was first announced in late 2005 for a 210-acre site just south of Crescent City. The original plan ran into legal problems from neighbors and from Volusia County. Wal-Mart had to withdraw its original proposal for a planned unit development (PUD), and resubmit it for a standard state review process. The state’s Department of Community Affairs initially raised concerns about the traffic impacts. Wal-Mart says the D.C. will generate 262 trucks entering and leaving the center every day, or 95,630 truck trips per year. Car trips would total 602 daily trips in and out. Sprawl-Busters started noticing so many of these welfare-for-warehouse deals across the country, that we wrote up a collection of such stories called “Wal-Mart’s Distribution System — Built on Welfare.” Putnam County Commissioners do not need to offer any welfare to Wal-Mart, and the candy-store of incentives for this distribution center is completely unnecessary, since Wal-Mart needs to build this facility to serve its Florida stores. These deals give new meaning to the concept of “Free Market.” Readers are urged to contact the Putnam County Commission Chairman Hermon Somers, Jr. by emailing him at http://www1.putnam-fl.com/live/sitemap.asp with this message: “Dear Chairman Somers, Wal-Mart is fishing in Florida for the largest free deal it can hook, and state taxpayers are the ones who will swallow the bait. In light of recent federal bail outs — it looks like Putnam County is following the welfare handout example with Wal-Mart, a company that had more than $400 billion in sales last year. Wal-Mart’s smaller competitors will never get roads built for them, or offers of special tax deals. But Wal-Mart will use such deals to proceed to put their smaller competitors out of business. That’s how the “free” market works in Putnam County. I urge you to reject Wal-Mart’s multi-million welfare grab in their memorandum of understanding. A company with Wal-Mart’s resources does not need subsidies from Florida taxpayers. Why don’t we help out small businesses, instead of throwing welfare at the largest corporations? You still have time to strip the welfare bail outs from the agreement, and tell them if Wal-Mart can’t afford to do this project without a handout, then maybe its not such a great idea after all. Regardless of what happens in court this week, taxpayers should not be bailing out Wal-Mart, and this project is a kick in the teeth to local residents who just want to enjoy their homes in peace and quiet, buffered from this huge industrial use. If the county continues to push this project, you should at least buy out the property owners who abut this project. You brought this problem on them, and you should make them whole financially.”