On July 11, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that residents in Etna, Ohio had organized to fight off a proposed 203,819 s.f. 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.” On June 8, 2008, almost three years since that first report from Etna, Sprawl-Busters noted that Wal-Mart was still battling to get into Etna, and one man’s legal battle was all that kept them from building. Plaintiff Gilbert Guttentag kept Wal-Mart from starting work on their site. The retailer has told the Newark Advocate newspaper that it wanted to have a store open by the end of 2008. But now they are a year behind schedule. Three judges on the Fifth District Court of Appeals ruled that Guttentag did not have “standing” to be a plaintiff in one of his cases. He was not allowed to 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 to 184,189 s.f.. 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. 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. In this lawsuit, Guttentag argued that the store would increase traffic and decrease property values. The District Court judges ruled in June that Guttentag had filed his appeal of the second permit in a timely way, and they sent his appeal back to the Licking County Common Pleas Court. While these legal cases were in process, the landowners and Guttentag also sued each other. This week, the Pataskala Standard newspaper reported that Etna Township, Guttentag, Wal-Mart, and the Langel family, which owns property where Wal-Mart wants to build, have reached an agreement to settle five lawsuits. As part of the agreement, Wal-Mart agreed to submit an amended zoning permit to build yet a smaller, 144,000-s.f. store. “One of the components is Wal-Mart is going to ask for a smaller-sized store on the site,” said the lawyer who represents the landowners. In effect, Guttentag won a 30% victory — knocking the store size down to 70% of its original size. After the announcement of a settlement, Guttentag told the newspaper, “It’s just a stupid location.” He said the smaller size of the new plans were some consolation to him for all his work. “It appears to be a very toned-down store, if they go ahead (with it),” he said. But the store that remains will be almost the size of three football fields under one roof. It’s amazing what passes for “toned down” these days.
As part of the settlement, Wal-Mart will have one year to start construction on the store and two-and-a-half years to complete construction. 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 1,000 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. It’s great that as a result of the legal settlement, Wal-Mart has cut its store by 30% — but it’s still far too large for your small community. 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. Now that Wal-Mart has shrunk a little, Etna should take proactive steps 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. This store is still three times the size of a football field. For a town with less than 6,000 people — that’s way too big.”