When Wal-Mart first came to Warrenton, Virginia to propose a discount store, there were major protests and a court battle against the store. After a protracted battle, the discount store did get built, over the protest of many town residents, who said the store exceeded the special permit size cap of 50,000 s.f. in effect for both Warrenton and Fauquier County. Wal-Mart accomplished the trick by placing its store partly in Fauquier county, and partly in Warrenton so it did not trigger the special permit requirement in either jurisdiction. Now, less than 10 years later, Wal-Mart is back looking to expand their store into a supercenter. But so far, the expansion plans have not been going as planned. Last week, the Warrenton Planning Commission, on a 5-2 vote, rejected Wal-Mart’s plans to add another 73,308 s.f. to their discount store. A special use permit was necessary for the expansion, and no one at the Commission hearing spoke in favor of it, outside of Wal-Mart. The retailer had to prove that the expansion would not have an adverse impact on the community, and residents charged that Wal-Mart had failed to present evidence in that regard. Wal-Mart is located on 21 acres in Warrenton currently designated as a Commercial Limited zone. Any use or additions greater than 50,000 square feet require a special-use permit. The Commission was now able to rule on a special permit, and they voted not to grant it. The matter now goes to the Warrenton Town Council on March 8th. for a final ruling. “I take what the citizens say seriously,” Planning Commissioner John Kip said. “(The applicant) is asking for a special-use permit in excess of the big box limit. I cannot support it,” he added. He also noted that he feels Warrenton does not need another grocery store. Commissioner’s said the store had not met the special permit criteria, and cited traffic impacts as a major concern. Wal-Mart submitted several traffic mitigation offers to the town. But the company’s own attorney admitted that Wal-Mart’s preferred traffic plan still generates some problems in terms of traffic queing. “We all recognize that traffic in this area is growing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “We’ve taken what we must deal with and come up with a plan that may not be perfect. But we have to look at what we can do with what we’ve got.” If Wal-Mart is rejected by the Town Council, they can submit a smaller expansion, go to court, or leave their store as is.
If every town required that stores over a certain size had to meet special permit criteria, then there would be many more Wal-Mart rejections like this one in Warrenton. There is no need for an additional grocery store in Warrenton, and Wal-Mart finally got tripped up by the size cap that triggered a special permit. Wal-Mart circumvented the town’s zoning code a decade ago by locating their store right on the town line, but Warrenton is one small town that fought Wal-Mart from the beginning, and stated very clearly that size matters to them. Local residents were buoyed by the Planning Commission vote, but know that until the Town Council votes, it ain’t over till the fat company sings.