On December 12, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that Christmas came a few days early in Elk Grove, California, when a Wal-Mart supercenter fell off Santa’s sleigh and broke into tiny pieces. According to the developer’s press release, Angelo G. Tsakopoulos and Wal-Mart decided to withdraw their application for a proposed supercenter at Sheldon and Power Inn roads. This decision occurred after the developer and Wal-Mart representatives met with community members, elected officials and local residents. Tsakopoulos said he was interested now in looking at alternative commercial uses for this site. Wal-Mart said it would continue to search for a store site in Elk Grove. “This is a prime example of community and business working together,” said Elk Grove’s Mayor at the time, Dan Briggs, who encouraged the groups to meet. “I commend Wal-Mart and Angelo for listening to the concerns of the community and am pleased Wal-Mart will continue to explore other opportunities in the City.” “After a number of meetings with local residents and community leaders, we have decided to withdraw the application, but we still recognize that there is a strong demand for a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Elk Grove and remain committed to serving those customers,” said a “Community Relations Manager” for Wal-Mart. The developer said his next proposal will be a “more neighbor-friendly scale.” The citizen’s group, the Elk Grove Coalition Advocating Proper Planning (EGCAPP) issued a statement thanking “the 4,000 plus supporters that have been behind all of our efforts.” The group met with the developer and Wal-Mart, and “was able to express all of the concerns of the community as to why this project is not appropriate in the existing 100% residential neighborhood.” Sprawl-Busters warned three years ago that “EGCAPP better push for a limit on the size of retail stores soon, or they will be facing another battle sooner, not later.” That “later” has come. Yesterday, February 8, 2009, CBS Channel 13 TV reported that residents in Elk Grove are facing a Wal-Mart in their backyards again — and they are no more receptive to the proposal than they were three years ago. More than 100 neighbors expressed their concerns over the noise and traffic a 24-hour store could bring to the community. Wal-Mart plans to build a 99,000 s.f. store right across the street. “We don’t want a Wal-Mart open 24/7 with all the problems that go with it,” one neighbor told CBS. A Target store was once proposed for this same dproperty at Bruceville and Poppy Ridge Roads — but the Target would have closed by 10 pm. That deal never happened, and the owner sold the property to Wal-Mart. Elk Grove’s current zoning code does not restrict 24 hour operations.
Elk Grove residents who are addicted to cheap, Chinese merchandise already have a Wal-Mart discount store right in Elk Grove. A second store offers very little added value to Elk Grove, since most of its sales will come from existing grocery stores in Elk Grove. One Elk Grove City councilor, Steve Detrick, told CBS news that he is willing to limit store hours. He says the code needs to be changed. “I definitely will be bringing forward the proposal, and I have a strong feeling my co-council will agree to make that amendment to the zoning code.” The city council meets later this week to discuss the zoning change. Neighbors plan to be there to encourage them. The fact is, the city council should do more to protect its residential neighborhoods. In addition to banning 24 hour operations that abut residential property — as this one does — the council could limit the scale of any retail store to 65,000 s.f. if it borders homes. Big box retail and residential property are incompatible land uses when placed side-by-side. In the absence of any buffer zone, big box projects like Wal-Mart, harm residential property. The added traffic and crime hurts the value of homes, and causes homeowners to lose value in their largest investment. This location for a Wal-Mart store, on an undeveloped piece of land, is simply an inappropriate place for a large commercial operation. A smaller, neighborhood-serving plaza might work — but not a 24 hour superstore. Readers are urged to email Mayor Patrick Hume at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Hume, The unfortunate choice by Wal-Mart to propose a huge supercenter that abuts residential homes, brings up two related issues: scale and hours of operation. The latter is very easy to deal with. Retailers over 25,000 s.f., or which border residential property on any side, should be required to close by 10 pm, and not reopen until 8 am. The issue of scale is simple as well: amend your code so that in any commercial zone in Elk Grove, no retail store can exceed 65,000 s.f. if its property touches residential property on any side. Many cities and towns in California, and the nation, have already enacted size caps and restricted hours of operation for big box stores. This is the proper purpose of zoning: to protect the health, safety and welfare of all residents in the community. If these two changes are not made, any homeowner who lives along the major traffic routes leading to this store, should be given a lowered tax assessment and a lowered bill, because the city will have deliberately harmed the value of their property. Elk Grove already has a Wal-Mart — but if this superstore is built, the ‘old’ store #1697 on Elk Grove Boulevard could be shut down — leaving your city with another big problem.”