Wal-Mart likes to toss around the word ‘sustainability,’ but it’s a concept Wal-Mart Realty has never seemed to master. Wal-Mart has torn down more useable buildings than any other retailer in the history of the planet. On September 9, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had submitted an application to build a new superstore and tear down its existing discount store on the same property in the tiny community of Berlin, Maryland. Wal-Mart discount store #2560 sits along Ocean Gateway road in Berlin. According to local officials, the store is “over-shopped.” If that’s true, it’s not from people in Berlin, because the community has less than 4,000 people living there — an increase from 1990 — when the population was 2,616. The nearby community of Ocean City, Maryland has roughly 7,000 people — so the two communities combined couldn’t “overshop” any store. If they did, the competitors would have no business at all. The entire county of Worcester in Maryland has just about enough people to support a superstore: 49,500. Worcester County pitches itself to tourists — not to big box shoppers. Located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Worcester County is Maryland’s only seaside county, “known for Ocean City’s clean sandy beaches, outdoor recreation, steamed crabs and the famous wild pony herd on Assateague Island State Park and National Seashore.” Worcester County also claims to have the best birding in the state, “and 100 miles of marked bicycle trails on flat country roads.” And if no citizen opposition creates waves — Worcester County will soon be able to claim the 14th supercenter in Maryland. But it turns out that Worcester County is talking out of both sides of its mouth. In one tourist promotion, the tiny town of Berlin is described to visitors as “the exquisite, Victorian-era town of Berlin with its romantic bed and breakfasts.” Tourists are encouraged to visit “historic Snow Hill and Pocomoke City, with their 100-plus century-old homes and proximity to the beautiful Pocomoke River. All these towns… are just a short drive away from the beach. Get away from the strip malls, the fast food and the city lights. Trade it in for history, architecture and an easy pace of life.” But now the county wants to “trade” all this for a huge, Wal-Mart supercenter. In September, 2008, Wal-Mart told the media that its superstore, which will replace the “old” Wal-Mart store that sits in front of the proposed site on Ocean Gateway, was being reviewed by county officials. “We’ve recently met with the technical review committee and received the technical comments regarding the site plan,” a lawyer for Wal-Mart said. “The consultants are addressing those comments now.” The activity last Fall by Wal-Mart came after months of silence over the project, which first washed up on shore three years ago. County Commissioner Judy Boggs told The Wave that the slow-down in progress was not on Wal-Mart’shore, but caused by negotiations over water and sewer issues. If this expansion is approved, the superstore will be 189,842 s.f., and will be part of a project called Ocean Landings I, which has nothing to do with oceans, or Landings. It’s another suburban superstore mall, and its going to force the county to build a new wastewater treatment plant to handle the needs of Wal-Mart, a proposed Home Depot, and other roadside sprawl. There is also an Ocean Landings II in the works for a second retail center. The county has already OK’d a 23,000 gallon per day sewer system for this project. Wal-Mart reportedly will be financially responsible for the treatment plant, since it wouldn’t be needed without their huge superstore. County Planning staff have warned that the wastewater treatment plant will need to be much larger than the proposed 23,000 gallon treatment system. The Dispatch newspaper reported in February, 2009 that Wal-Mart had changed its superstore design, to come up with a “more localized, attractive style.” Wal-Mart’s architect presented plans to the County’s Planning Commission, which had not seen the plans since the spring of 2006. The architect told planners that Wal-Mart’s new design emphasizes “warm color and human scale.” The footprint, which is nearly the size of three football fields, will be pedestrian-friendly, the architect said, and give a more local feel for the building and surrounding space. The building has more brick and earth tones, and the chain link fence around the garden center is now made of wrought iron. The main store sign will “only” be 377 s.f., instead of the original 1,000 s.f. The extra wall signs that say “pharmacy” and “superstore” are gone. A Wal-Mart spokesman told planners that the downward directed light of the lighting poles “will not have that glowing effect at night.” The overall effect, said the architect, was a project with a “streetscape feel.” Long, unbroken walls will be broken down into smaller parts. “The building should age well,” the architect concluded. An adding selling point is the fact that the building will have “green” features, creating less waste water, and using skylights to help light the store. Finally, the store has been shrunk by 25,000 s.f., which makes it 164,000 s.f. — still the largest retail store in the region. All of these changes were not lost on one member of the Planning Commission, who told Wal-Mart the new design was “mind boggling.” The Commission voted unanimously to accept the drawings, which is the first step in approving them later. The architect spent a year redesigning the superstore. “When you walk past these big box stores, they can be so overwhelming,” he said. The new Supercenter will be constructed behind the existing store, which will then be demolished and converted into parking spaces. On June 7, 2009, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was back before the Planning Commission discussing plans to tear down the existing 102,000 s.f. Wal-Mart. This existing store will stay open until the new building is complete. “Wal-Mart’s goal is to start building and get the new store built so they can open that one and close the old one almost simultaneously,” Wal-Mart’s engineer explained. However, company officials said they plan to re-use much of the old building to help in construction of the new store, in an effort to prevent waste, the Wal-Mart consultant said. Some of the fixtures in the old store will be reused and “much of the concrete and block from the building would be crushed up and used for the parking lot in front of the new store,” reported Delmarva Now. “As a company, Wal-Mart’s goal is zero waste by 2010,” the engineer said. “Sustainability is a big issue for them.” This week, Worcester County planners approved plans for the new supercenter in Berlin. The Planning Commission unanimously approved the site plan for the new building, clearing barriers for the company to seek permits needed to start work. Construction should begin early next year. The Planning Commission added minor conditions to their approval, asking Wal-Mart to move the location of the pharmacy drive-thru window. Planners also stipulated that Wal-Mart will not be permitted to sell anything — such as garden center items — in the parking lot. Wal-Mart will be asked to leave space in the parking lot for the county’s recycling facility that is already there. That’s basically it: the ‘human scale’ concept has been tossed out, and the unsustainable practice of tearing down one big store to replace it with a bigger store, has been rubber-stamped. Another “Victorian-era town” gets Wal-Martized. An environmentally conscious company would have made do with its existing store — but at Wal-Mart, bigger is still better.
If sustainability was a big issue with Wal-Mart, they would not be tearing down a 102,000 s.f. store only to construct another one nearly twice as large behind it. No one in Berlin seemed sharp enough to ask the company to do an ‘in-box conversion’ and make the existing store into a supercenter, without having to tear down anything. This ‘build one, tear one down’ mentality at Wal-Mart is anything but green, and certainly not sustainable. Wal-Mart has learned that if you toss in a few roof gables, some awnings, and brick facades, you can disguise the big box behind the fa??ade. According to the Baltimore Business Journal, the Wal-Mart in Berlin is one of six new supercenters that Wal-Mart is pursuing in the state. Four of them are conversions of existing discount stores in Hampstead, North East, Laurel, and Cambridge, Maryland. Stores are also being built in Denton and Berlin. In Hampstead, Wal-Mart is proposing to expand its existing store from 103,000 s.f. to 193,000 s.f. The Journal quoted a local merchant who said that a supercenter in Hampstead could hurt smaller grocers in the area. Lou Santoni, co-owner of Santoni’s Marketplace and Catering Co. in Glyndon, Maryland told the Journal, “They already cannibalize the dry goods and health and beauty care business of the supermarket.” Readers are urged to email the President of the Worcester County Commissioners, Virgil Shockley at [email protected]com with the following message: “Dear President Shockley, I was shocked to learn that a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter has been approved by the County Planning Commission for the town of Berlin. This project calls for the demolition of the ‘old’ Wal-Mart store on Ocean Gateway, along Route 50. To expand the big box amidst the seacoast’s natural beauty, seems to me foolish and shortsighted. Small towns like Berlin have been promoted for their romantic nature, pristine beaches, and old homes. Into the mix, you toss a totally incompatible big box store. It’s time for Worcester County to do a better job of protecting its natural environment and its taxpayers. Your Planning Commission melted in the hands of Wal-Mart’s architect, who managed to take a big box footprint almost the size of three football fields, and convince Commissioners that it was ‘human scale.’ The fa??ade treatment, made to look like a row of village stores, will not affect the increased traffic and crime that comes to this site, or the cost of police and fire protection the taxpayers will absorb. Don’t allow your unique environment to be converted into another sprawling nowhere. Put a cap of 50,000 s.f. on the size of new retail buildings, make them conform to a village-appropriate scale and design, and then pass an ordinance that requires retailers to put money into escrow to pay for any store they leave empty for more than 12 months. This superstore is not an economic development project for Worcester County, because most of the ‘new’ jobs will come from the ‘old’ Wal-Mart store, and the existing grocery stores in the area. You will see no new jobs, and little new net revenues. But even worse: you can’t buy small town quality of life on any Wal-Mart shelf, and once they take it away, you can’t buy it back at any price. Don’t be tricked by all this talk of ‘warm colors’. The glow from this project will be visible for miles. If Wal-Mart wants to reach a ‘zero waste’ policy, they’re going to have to stop wasting existing stores like the one in Berlin. This project is just a ‘zero’ for area merchants, and for the residents of your small county.”