All it took was Wal-Mart turning over a little dirt just outside of town to put Mayor Eric Amundsen on edge. The Mayor of the small town of River Falls, Wisconsin (pop. 12,500) is calling for a 180 day moratorium on big box development. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Wal-Mart or a Cub,” the Mayor told the River Falls Journal newspaper, “we don’t want anything like that happening suddenly.” The Mayor said the 6 months breathing space would “give city staff a chance to look at and study the impacts,” something that most towns never do. “We just want (developers) to know that we know they’re here looking at us. It’s important that we make sure this would be good for our city. We don’t want it to hurt our downtown financially. Obviously that’s a concern.” The idea of a moratorium was advanced by the River Falls Plan Commission, right after word surfaced that Wal-Mart had asked for a soil survey on a 40 acre parcel of land just over the city line. Planning Director Buddy Lucero said the moratorium would allow his staff “to review existing codes and guidelines: He warned what happens when communities are caught unprepared: “If you’re not planning, they’ll just come in and build whatever they can build under the city’s codes,” he told the Journal. “We also want to look at whether or not this is going to have an impact…on other stores.” Lucero wants the moratorium period to be used to look at store size, location and scale, as well as compatibility with the “historical style” of existing buildings. Plan Commission member Hal Watson said his “gut reaction is that it’s (big boxes) not good for downtown business, and I think that’s where we want to focus our energy.” The recommendation for a moratorium had to go to the City Council, which is expected to take up the measure initially on July 23rd. A third Plan Commission member said the visual impact of large stores could be softened. ‘They can be earth bermed,” Joleen Larson said. “The parking lot doesn’t have to face the road. It doesn’t have to be just a sea of concrete.” Watson pointed out that similar stores are already easily accessible for those who want to take their money out of town. “All these same stores are available 10 to 15 miles away.” Even without a moratorium, the city probably could control growth, because to obtain water and sewer service, the 40 acres Wal-Mart reportedly wants would have to be annexed into River Falls. Without annexation, Wal-Mart would have to provide its own water and sewer infrastructure, making the project costlier to construct.
A citizen’s opposition group has formed in River Falls to stop the Wal-Mart development, which is reported to be in the 100,000 s.f. range — although Wal-Mart has not commented on any interest in the property. This store would be the largest retail building in the history of this little Wisconsin community. Critics point out that River Falls residents already have a Wal-Mart store 10 miles away in Hudson. For more background on moratoriums, contact [email protected] For local contacts in River Falls, contact the same email.