Wal-Mart lost its first key vote in Conover, North Carolina, when the Planning Board this week voted 6-4 against rezoning of land for a supercenter, and then voted 8-2 to recommend the 203,000 s.f. project be denied. The City Council, however, gets the final word, and members of the Planning Board urged local citizens to cover the City Council like a wet blanket. “It is time for the citizens of Conover to let their feelings be known,” one planning board member said. “They need to be in constant contact with the city council and staff before Sept. 6.” One City Councilor told the Hickory Record, “A majority of the time we go with the planning board’s recommendations. That doesn’t mean that will happen this time.” One Planning Board member said, “When we developed that (Route 16 Corridor) plan in 1998, it was not our intent to put a big box store in. The biggest store in that plan was to be no bigger than 80,000 square feet.” What Wal-Mart has proposed in Conover is a fa??ade that looks like a series of smaller stores, and the city’s Planning Director said if the store’s “perceived scale is smaller,” it could be OK. “By breaking up the fa??ade into a village storefront look, the size, or scale, of Wal-Mart is perceived to be smaller.” The Planning Director, who favored the store, drew laughs from residents when he said, “From the front, it no longer looks like a big box,” “I guess you can take a hippopotamus and put it in an Easter Bunny outfit, but you’ve still got a hippopotamus,” one resident responded. Other residents challenged the retailer’s statements that it would create 300 new jobs.. “There’s always talk of creating jobs, but Wal-Mart’s why we lost those jobs in the first place,” one citizen explained. “(A Wal-Mart will) kill as many as it creates. We are turning into a society that shops ourselves out of work.”
There is no such thing as a 203,000 s.f. “village” supercenter. In a number of communities, Wal-Mart has tried to pass off its “village” design as something more than a skin deep change. Behind the fa??ade is the big box, with the same negative impacts on traffic, crime, and character of the community. In this case, the city’s Planning Staff is pushing hard to over turn the Planning Board’s recommendation. The fact is, this parcel is under an 80,000 s.f. cap, and the “perceived” size argument as about as lame as they come. It’s a hippopotamus in retailer’s clothing. But residents of Conover are going to have to turn out in force on September 6th to overcome Wal-Mart’s lobbying.