Residents in Belmont, North Carolina had their prayers answered today. They learned that the Monks in Belmont Abbey have decided — for now — to withdraw their plans to build a Wal-Mart supercenter on land off I-85 (see earlier Belmont story below). Money from renting the land to Wal-Mart was supposed to be used to ensure the economic viability of the Roman Catholic college. But others in town said it ensured the economic weakening of the local merchant base. The Monks issued a statement that simply said it was “not in our best interest to proceed”. A spokesman for the Monks said the information they received that made them change their mind was from local residents. This last minute change of heart came as the Belmont City Council was poised to vote on a plan to rezone land for the Wal-Mart, a move already endorsed by the local Planning Board. The project had 120% support from Mayor Billy Joye, who said the decision to pull out was “sad, it really is.” The Monks declined to call their decision a setback, Daphne Moore, a Wal-Mart spokesman, told the local newspaper that fears Wal-Mart destroys a small town are unfounded. “The reality is that Wal Mart operates in small towns across the country side by side with small town business,” she told the Belmont Gazette. “I think it’s pretty shortsighted to say that your community is based on retail. A community is made up of a lot more. We certainly don’t have the ability to destroy it.” What the newspaper account failed to explain was this: The Monks have 5 fingers and know how to count. Earlier this week, local abuttors to the project submitted a petition with the signatures of more than 20% of the land mass surrounding this project opposing the project. Under Belmont’s local ordinance, this petition requires the City Council to pass the rezoning request by a “supermajority”, which in Belmont means 4 out of 5 votes. The Monks didn’t need divine inspiration to add up the numbers. It is rumored that at least 2 members of the Council might vote against the rezoning, while two are for it. If two people are against the project, the rezoning dies, and the Monks can’t come back for another year to ask for rezoning. So the theory is the Monks are falling back to figure out what strategy to take next. Try to get one of the anti-Wal-Mart votes to change? Wait some months and come back in again? The local Citizens for Responsible Growth don’t plan to let up their energy in stopping this project, even if some people in the city now think that it doesn’t have a prayer.
For more information on the Monk’s Wal-Mart, contact [email protected]