On July 11, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that residents in Etna, Ohio had organized to fight off a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter on the east side of Route 310, across from a housing development. There is a Wal-Mart superstore about 10 miles away in Ashland, Kentucky, and four other supercenters within 22 miles of Etna. The trade area is saturated with Wal-Mart stores, and what may have been appropriate in 2005 certainly makes no sense today. “Wal-Mart is attempting to purchase land in Etna Township, Ohio (near Pataskala). The majority of Etna is farmland, corn fields, trees and wildlife,” one resident wrote in 2005. “There are only two small housing subdivisions. Most of the residents here enjoy the “small town” atmosphere (we are only 15 miles or so from Columbus) and so was the reason for moving in this area. We are devastated that Wal-Mart is attempting to build. Our home, for instance has a beautiful tree line and cornfield to view. We perish the thought that we may soon be viewing the back of a Wal-Mart Supercenter and listening to the sounds of trucks and honking horns. Not to mention, the loss of natural resources, crime, road damage, increased taxes, loss of property value, etc. We had a community meeting where it was made clear to the township that we strongly oppose Wal-Mart or any other massive chain store developing in the area.” This week, almost three years since that first report on Etna, Wal-Mart is still battling to get into Etna, and one man’s legal battle against them is still alive. Plaintiff Gilbert Guttentag has thus far kept Wal-Mart from starting work on their site. The retailer has told the Newark Advocate newspaper that it wants to have a store open by the end of 2008 — but that is not likely to happen. Three judges on the Fifth District Court of Appeals ruled that Guttentag does not have “standing” to be a plaintiff in his case. He therefore cannot challenge the first zoning permit that Wal-Mart was seeking. But Wal-Mart later changed its plans, and scaled back the size of its store. In April of 2007, Guttentag went before the Etna Zoning Board of Appeals to try to stop the second zoning permit for the larger store, but the ZBA would not take up his appeal, saying that he lacked standing. Guttentag then challenged the permits in the Common Pleas Court, and then onto the Fifth District Court of Appeals. The District Court judges this past week said that Guttentag had filed his appeal of the second permit in a timely way, and sent his appeal back to the Licking County Common Pleas Court. The lawyer for the landowners say that Guttentag has 45 days to appeal the decision of the District Court to the Ohio Supreme Court. While these legal cases are in process, the landowners and Guttentag have also sued each other.
In 2000, Etna had a population of just over 5,400 people. The trade area is already adequately served by Wal-Mart stores. Etna likes to say that Etna Township is within a 1000 mile radius of 50% of the U.S. population. “Today,” the township boasts, “quick access to a major city (Columbus), two international airports, universities and a huge, diverse employment pool have accelerated growth and provide a bright economic future for the township.” Readers are urged to email Dick Knapp, President of the Township’s Board of Trustees at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear President Knapp, Etna is a very small community, and Wal-Mart is a very big company. Their proposal is far too big for your small town. This kind of proposal should never divide the community again into winners and losers. Mr. Guttentag, and many of the homeowners in his residential development, are rightly concerned about the traffic, noise, lights and crime that come with Wal-Mart superstores. All of these negative impacts are caused by scale. Regardless of how this case gets settled in court, Etna should take proactive steps now to prevent this kind of suburban sprawl from happening again. As President, you should consider putting a cap on the size of retail buildings, so that residential areas don’t lose out when encroached by large commercial projects. A Wal-Mart supercenter brings no added value to Etna, because you already have 5 Wal-Mart supercenters within 22 miles. Etna has to decide: lead growth, or follow it. The developers watch out for their bottom line, but the Etna Board of Trustees have to watch out for your homeowners. Limit the size of stores, before the stores limit your small town character.”