The fight over a Wal-Mart supercenter in Front Royal became one of the most divisive issues in this small community’s history — and the dust still hasn’t settled — even after the Town Council vote to let them in. In the latest twist, Mayor James Eastham has sent a letter to Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott asking him to find another location for his store. In July, 2003, the Town Council voted to rezone 121 acres of land along a sensitive gateway to the town, from residential to commercial to allow the Wal-Mart supercenter. The vote of Town Council was delayed for a time when one member of the Council who opposed Wal-Mart, refused to show up to give the town a quorum. But that vote cost two of the Town Council members their jobs, as voters turned them out of office ten months later, and the town officially changed its position to oppose the gateway location. A local citizen’s group, Save Our Gateway, filed a lawsuit against the rezoning, and now town officials are on their side. In his letter to Wal-Mart, the Mayor asked the company “that you consider moving (the store) to somewhere along our commercial corridor. We believe there are a number of alternative sites that Wal-Mart would find suitable.” The Town has already spent $10,118 on legal fees in the case. Because the Mayor has not heard back from Wal-Mart, he told fellow Councilors “I am assuming that Wal-Mart would rathaer litigate than negotiate.” Town officials have pointed out that the Strasburg Road site that Wal-Mart wants has no infrastruture to handle the traffic Wal-Mart will produce. The Save Our Gateway lawsuit will be heard in early January. During the rezoning hearings, it was revealed that the former Mayor, Robert Tennett, had met secretly with Wal-Mart representatives, and never told the Council. Current Mayor Eastham told the Northern Daily News that he wrote the letter to try to resolve the lawsuit. “I know this Wal-Mart thing has really kind of driven a wedge into the community, and court is a last resort to settle this thing. So I took it upon myself a month ago to write to Lee Scott, President and CEO of Wal-Mart, to see if we could come to some sort of win-win situation. ”
If Wal-Mart has a dead letter office, Mayor Eastham’s letter is surely there. Front Royal turned into Battle Royale over this issue, and Wal-Mart did little to try to defuse the issue. In this case, the town is offering Wal-Mart other locations, but the retailer has not responded to those offers, proving that the retailer would rather fight than switch. For earlier stories on Front Royal, search Newsflash by the town’s name.