Most of the participants at the Fort Wright, Kentucky hearing on a Wal-Mart supercenter were bleary-eyed by 2:30 AM, but for those who stayed until the end — it was worth the wait. Wal-Mart was rejected by the Fort Wright City Council on a vote of 5 to 1. The marathon hearing lasted 7 and a half hours, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Wal-Mart proposed a 204,184 s.f. supercenter, plus 12 additional retail stores on 64 acres of land near Route 17. Because of major public opposition to the project, the City Council moved the hearing to a local church, and residents turned the event into a standing room only crowd estimated by the newspaper at 300 people. City officials poked holes in the review conducted by the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission. “There were a bunch of technical questions that should have been asked by them that weren’t,” said Councilman Don Martin. Councilors faulted the Commission’s reliance on the developer’s traffic expert. Fort Wright officials hired their own traffic engineer, and the city’s consultant concluded that the five nearby intersections would deteriorate from present conditions if the Valley Plaza project was built — even with road improvements offered by the developer. “Why would we, as a community, want to spend several hundred thousand dollars on traffic improvements if all we’re going to do is make things worse,” asked Attorney Mark Guilfoyle, one of the lawyers hired by Fort Wright residents. Citizens also challenged whether the supercenter plan even fit the permitted uses in the “neighborhood shopping center” zone. To express their super-unhappiness over the supercenter, citizens presented the Council with a petition signed by 600 residents against the plan, citing traffic concerns, the impact on small businesses, and the loss of residential property values. In the end, the Fort Wright City Council slam dunked Wal-Mart, leaving the developer with the choice of reworking their development plan, filing a lawsuit challenging the decision, or, as Sam Walton suggested years ago: “I encourage us to walk away from this kind of trouble…Wal-Mart wants to go where it is wanted.”
This is the second Kentucky community in two weeks (see newsflash story from Henderson, KY) where residents in large numbers have turned out to oppose Wal-Mart supercenters. After watching Wal-Mart empty out 14 stores, residents in Kentucky are starting to realize that Wal-Mart supercenters now do not represent new economic development, but simply retail cannibalism. New stores don’t mean new jobs, just empty older stores, and fewer players in the marketplace. Because Wal-Mart is insisting on bringing forward stores that are nearly five times the size of a football field, the opposition has grown in size as well. Since 1988, what Wal-Mart has been doing is replacing its own smaller discount stores with larger supercenters. This kind of “empty” development chews up large parcels of land that could be used more productively, and creates ongoing pressures on roads, stormwater runoff, and sewage disposal — with little financially to offset the negative impacts. Even at 2:30 in the morning, that was clear to officials in Forth Wright.