Eleven years ago, Sprawl-Busters reported that the village of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee, had a big problem with big box stores.
Menomonee Falls has given thumbs down to Home Depot not once, but twice. The Village Board had also rejected a Menard’s store. The Village President at the time, Joe Greco, said his community had had its fill of big box stores — and he planned to do something about it. After all, the community has paid its dues to superstores: there is a Target, Kohl’s and Big K store already in the village, and residents are saturated with boxes. Today, there are 15 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Menomonee Falls, including a supercenter less than two miles away in Germantown, Wisconsin,
“The people don’t want it,” Greco told the Journal Sentinel newspaper. “We’ve seen it with Menards; we’ve seen it with the Home Depots. I want to be able to provide neighborhood commercial services, but I don’t believe we want to have (any more) businesses that provide regional services. I think we’ve done our fair share.” Greco said residents had raised a “whole myriad of concerns” about big stores, including traffic impacts, storm water runoff, and other community development issues. “The message has come through from the community that people don’t want ‘big box’,” Greco said. “I know that other communities have done it.”
In response, Greco began thinking outside of the box, and proposed amending Menomonee Falls’ zoning ordinance to limit the square footage of commercial buildings. “I think it’s time to stop,” said President Greco. The village eventually did require retail stores over 60,000 s.f. to get a conditional use permit.
That was in the year 2000. But Menomonee Falls today is still struggling with box stores a decade later. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in November that Wal-Mart was invading the metro Milwaukee area with as many as 8 or 9 new stores. “We’re looking to serve our customers all over the state,” a spokesman for the retailer told the Journal. “There’s plenty of opportunity in Milwaukee.”
A developer from Tennessee, Gatlin Development, has its fingers in several Wal-Mart pies in Milwaukee, South Milwaukee, Greendale, and Menomonee Falls. Wal-Mart was purusing a “flexible sizing plan” according to the Journal, including stand-alone grocery units at 20,000 s.f., medium stores in the range fo 30,000 to 60,000 s.f., and large stores at 80,000 s.f. and up.
Last week, Wal-Mart revealed more of its intentions for the village of Menomonee Falls. Gatlin Development asked the village’s Plan Commission to rezone 25 acres of land for a 115,000 s.f retail development. The Menomonee Falls site is on the southern edge of the village, bordering Brookfield. It’s roughly a 10-minute drive to Gatlin’s proposed Wal-Mart store in Milwaukee, and 20-minute drive from an existing Wal-Mart supercenter in Germantown.
Given Menomonee Falls’ history with big box stores, it was not surprising that the Journal-Sentinel reported that the Wal-Mart store “appears to be in trouble.” The Menomonee Falls Plan Commission voted on Jan. 4 th to reject Wal-Mart’s rezoning request.
Local residents came to the hearing and raised concerns about the traffic that this huge store would generate. Part of the roadway slated for the superstore is a two-lane road which heads south into Brookfield, Wisconsin. “The roads in that area are not prepared to take that kind of traffic,” one neighbor told the newspaper.
The website Menomonee Falls Now posted a poll asking readers: “Should a Wal-Mart Be Built” in Menomonee Falls? As of mid-day on Sunday, January 16th, the “unscientific” poll had attracted 464 voters, and was running 80% against Wal-Mart, 16% in favor, and 5% not sure.
The website’s story about the Plan Commission vote began this way: “The Plan Commission sent a strong message to developers hoping to bring a Wal-Mart to the village: You won’t get it here without a fight.”
At least 100 people showed up for the hearing, mostly opposed to rezoning the 3 parcels of land that Gatlin was trying to consolidate under one zone.
Plan Commissioner and Village Trustee Michael McDonald told developers he would never vote for the proposal on any level adding that this was the worst possible location for a plan like this. Falls residents turned out in force, because the site is located next to a condo development.
“I don’t want Walmart there. We don’t need it,” one condo neighbor told the Commission.”We’ll have traffic. We’ll have kids, we’ll have a lot of commotion. We don’t want that.”
One resident whose home is just feet from the Wal-Mart property line, expressed concern over violence and crime that happened recently at a nearby mall in Milwaukee. “Look at Mayfair shopping center,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time, they build it here, over there. It’s going to happen. I got to worry about what’s going to happen to my property, and who’s going to be sneaking through the yard?”
The decision now shifts to the Menomonee Falls Village Board, which will take up the matter on February 21st.
Village President Randy Newman voted against the re-zoning, and joined Board member McDonald in opposing the plan.
To kill the project, McDonald and Newman will need two more Board members to join them. Gatlin needs four affirmative votes to win over the Village Board.
The negative reception at the Plan Commission may have allowed Wal-Mart to read the writing on the Wal. The Journal newspaper suggests that Wal-Mart and Gatlin may withdraw their plan to avoid an enmbarassing defeat at the Village Board.
But Wal-Mart made it sound like it needs to do a little more political homework before returning to the Village. A spokeswoman for the retailer noted that the whole process is just beginning, and her company wants to try to make its pitch directly to local residents. “We haven’t had a chance to talk to neighbors,” the spokesman told the Journal — which means the retailer chose not to meet with angry neighbors, but proceeded directly to the Plan Commission, hoping to score points there.
But once the Plan Commission said No, and the Village President was part of that rejection, Wal-Mart realized it had made a mistake by not trying to win over the neighbors first.
Readers are urged to email Menomonee Falls Village President Randy Newman at [email protected] with this message:
“Dear President Newman, How refreshing to see a Village President stand up to an out-of-state developer and Wal-Mart!
It seems that Gatlin has its sights set on multiple sites around metro Milwaukee — so they won’t even notice if Menomonee Falls drops from the list.
Your Village has at least a ten year history of discomfort with retail projects that are super-sized for a village community. You are right to oppose major rezonings like this one. I truly hope that Gatlin will stand down, and that Wal-Mart will turn to its other projects and leave Menomonee Falls alone.
You are not required to rezone land for anyone, and your residents have every reason to oppose this project literally in their backyards. This proposal is the wrong size and the wrong place for Menomonee Falls, and I urge you to work your hardest to get other Trustees to join you in voting down this rezoning if it comes before the Board.
You can’t buy small town quality of life at any Wal-Mart. Once they take it from you, they can’t sell it back at any price.”