The small town of Kilmarnock, VA (pop.1,500) made some loud noise this week against a proposed 109,000 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore plus a 145,000 s.f. Lowe’s building supply store in the historic Northern Neck region of Virginia between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers. A new group has been formed, the Citizens for Sensible Development, to spearhead efforts to keep out another sprawling retail superstore. There are already two Wal-Mart supercenters within 30 miles of Kilmarnock. To the northwest is the Wal-Mart in Tappahannock, which is surrounded by two dead malls within yelling distance, and to the southwest, another superstore in Gloucester. According to police records in Tappahannock, the 24 hour Wal-Mart supercenter is responsible for 21% of all criminal offense records in the past 21 months in that community. “It’s been a drain on our resources,” said one local official. A developer from Richmond has yet to publicly admit that Wal-Mart and Lowe’s are his anchors, but word travels fast in these small communities. “Keep Your Hands Off Our Neck!” is the rallying cry of local residents, who are concerned that Wal-Mart will succeed in cannibalizing local retailers, while simultaneously destroying the small town rural lifestyle that their Comprehensive Plan touts. As in many other situations, Wal-Mart’s developer has chosen land that is not properly zoned. The 70 acre parcel is zoned M-1, industrial, which does not permit retail uses of any kind. The land owner or developer will have to ask the Town Council for a change in use or conditional use. But the Citizens for Sensible Development attracted more than 400 area residents to their first public event, and have vowed to protect the Northern Neck from Wal-Mart saturation. Kilmarnock was named by Scottish merchants in the late 1770s for Kilmarnock, Scotland. Kilmarnock is the hub town for retail shopping on the Northern Neck, but simply does not have enough population or income growth to absorb a 250,000 s.f. supermall. The town’s elderly population is 26% — more than twice the rate in Virginia as a whole. Many retirees and tourists bring resources to the area, drawn by its countless inlets and beautiful shorelines. If Wal-Mart captured 60% of its sales from other area merchants, the result would be a $22 million loss of sales locally. The town’s Comprehensive Plan says the goal of economic development should be to “preserve a semi-rural small-town lifestyle.” It’s nearly impossible to build a Wal-Mart that does that. The Plan calls on residents to “discourage scattered and uncontrolled development.” “For many of us,” said one local resident, “Wal-Mart and Lowe’s are the noose around the Northern Neck”.
To help save the Northern Neck, with volunteer contributions, or with money to fight Wal-Mart, contact Bud Hudnall, at 1-800-535-0084.