The state of Kentucky doesn’t need any more empty Wal-Marts. The state already has 14 Wal-Marts on the market, making it the 9th. highest state with dead Wals. This week residents in the city of Henderson turned out in force to create what the Gleaner newspaper called a “Wal-Mart battleground.” The company is on its 3rd Wal-Mart proposal. The first Wal-Mart was closed long ago, and the second one will surely close if Wal-Mart is allowed to rezone 37 acres of farmland into an asphalt supercenter. But Wal-Mart ran into a WAL of opposition Tuesday night when 300 residents turned out wearing yellow stickers that said ‘stop Wal-Mart’. After three or four hours of testimony, only one third of the speakers against Wal-Mart had had a chance to speak, lead off by yours truly. Not one single resident stood up to praise Wal-Mart. The local manager was there, along with several of his paid staff — but not one single person rose to Wal-Mart’s defense. Instead, neighbors of the development, many of whom have lived in the Balmoral I and Balmoral II developments for decades, trashed the project as totally incompatible with the city’s master plan. Wal-Mart’s traffic study was a total wreck, with repeated criticism for ignoring a nearby cloverleaf intersection and a two lane bridge to the site. The company chose only to look at intersections immediately in front of the project, and to do a traffic count in June — after school was out. But residents also noted that city’s goal is to stop commercial strip development, support downtown Henderson as the center of commercial activity, and preserve agricultural land. The hearing finally had to be continued until nexxt week, when residents hope to pick up the battle where they left off. Organized under the name “Henderson First”, residents hope to prove that in this Kentucky town, one Wal-Mart is one more than enough.
When the Planning Commission initially approved a rezoning of this property back in November of 1999, the developer did not specify what companies were interested in the site, and did not suggest that a 192,500 s.f. Wal-Mart plus gas station might be part of the project. The Commission approved the rezoning in 1999 — but subject to the anchor stores being identified. As soon as word leaked out that it was a Wal-Mart supercenter, the grassroots organizing began. Henderson has a lot financially riding on this decision. The community is engaged in a major waterfront development project, and has spent more than $25 million to rejuvenate the downtown. The Wal-Mart project is located outside of the downtown along Route 60, and could shift as much as $25 million away from existing grocery stores. The project provides virtually no transition from a heavy commercial use to residential properties. The developer tried to argue that the nearly 300,000 s.f. total build out, with 1,406 parking spaces, was a ‘clustered’ development and not a suburban sprawl posterchild. But no one rose to defend the plan, and the Planning Commission seemed skeptical that the proposal met city land use goals.