It’s always painful to watch neighboring communities compete for sprawl — instead of trying to manage it. The Daily Herald newspaper called the following story a “tale of two cities.” East and West Dundee, Illinois are playing a game of retail musical chairs. In this game, Wal-Mart wins, and East Dundee loses big time. West Dundee hopes to see the construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter on a 17 acre site at the Spring Hill Mall, which is owned by General Growth Properties. The construction of this supercenter will cause the Wal-Mart discount store in East Dundee to close. Wal-Mart hasn’t come out and admitted that’s what will happen, but over the past 13 years, the giant retailer has systematically been shutting down, or expanding, its discount stores. The company has shut down or converted more than 1,000 discount stores since 1995. The Wal-Mart discount store on Dundee Avenue in East Dundee is now about 20 years old — which is ancient by Wal-Mart standards. The only reason Wal-Mart is building a supercenter in West Dundee is because they consider the discount store in East Dundee to be old and inadequate. The store in West Dundee will be less than 2 miles from the existing store in East Dundee. The two communities apparently don’t see the wisdom in regional planning or regional revenue sharing, so they compete with one another for bigger and bigger malls. Wal-Mart currently has 15 “dark stores” for sale or lease in Illinois. The East Dundee store will make 16 dead stores. West Dundee says the new superstore will bring in $1 million in sales taxes, and East Dundee, according to the Daily Herald, is “bracing for a gaping hole in their receipts.” East Dundee Village President Dan O’Leary said his community will lose 15% of its service-related funds when Wal-Mart shuts down. “I am guessing we could see a $600,000 cut from our $4 million operating budget,” O’Leary told the newspaper. “That could mean a reduction in services like police and public works, and then we just run out of places to cut back.” So far, Wal-Mart has denied that it plans to shut down the East Dundee store. “We are in an evaluation stage as far as what we are doing with the store,” a company spokesman told the Daily Herald. But East Dundee officials know the score. Anticipating Wal-Mart would close, East Dundee cut its budget 6%, and then another 10% this year. “If we could get a final decision from Wal-Mart, we could take advantage of other opportunities in the area,” one village official said. “Some companies say they want to be with Wal-Mart, others say they don’t want to be anywhere near Wal-Mart.” The West Dundee Planning & Zoning Commission will hear the Wal-Mart’s proposal on April 28th. It’s clear that West Dundee officials have no problem picking the pocket of residents in East Dundee.
One has to wonder if the folks in East Dundee and the folks in West Dundee ever talk to one another. This lack of coordination by two neighboring towns is a classic primer on how not to do land use planning. When East and West communities fail to plan together, they get into a “bidding war” mentality, with each community trying to one-up the other’s mall. The result is no regional land use planning, and the construction of malls that bring no added value economically to the area. East Dundee will now scout around to try to fine some developer who will enlarge their mall’s square footage to claw back revenue from West Dundee. If the two communities had any interaction, this kind of wasteful leapfrogging of developments would stop, and land — a limited quantity — could be used for higher purposes that more vast parking lots and single-story, windowless buildings. Readers are urged to email the West Dundee Village President, Larry Keller, and the rest of the Trustees at: [email protected], with the following message: “Dear President Keller, and Trustees: Your village is clearly trying to portray an image of a unique community, with a revitalized, historic downtown. ‘Even as we grow,’ West Dundee says, ‘and look to the future, we support those aspects of our past that continue to give our Village such unique appeal.’ Your enthusiasm for approving a 183,000 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore is neither unique, nor appealing. Without firing a shot, you have declared an economic war with your neighbors in East Dundee. Their loss will be your gain. The real winner is Wal-Mart, which gets to walk away from its ‘old’ store in East Dundee, and move into a bigger mall in West Dundee. Someday, the superstore itself will close down too, and since it’s only a tenant, Growth Properties will have to find someone to take their place. This kind of leapfrog development serves no one, and your ‘beggar thy neighbor’ approach to land use planning leads to waste and sprawl. I urge you to reject the superstore plans, and put a cap on the size of retail mall, so that your ‘unique’ village does not become just another example of roadside sprawl. If you don’t want to end up like East Dundee, you’d better require Wal-Mart to put up a demolition escrow for the day when they abandon the Spring Hill mall too. East and West Dundee should create a regional land use planning entity so that East and West can stop these mindless retail wars.”