Wal-Mart has gotten stuck in the mud on a former sod farm just outside of Chicago. On March 9, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was knocking on the door of the village of Tinley Park, Illinois, which already has 17 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of the village’s borders — including a supercenter less than 4 miles away in Orland Hills, Illinois. According to the South Town Star newspaper, Wal-Mart’s initial plan to construct a 24-hour super store at 191st Street “got nothing but negative reaction.” This community is only 21 miles from downtown Chicago. It has “easy access” to a trade area of 600,000 people and a metropolitan market of 9 million. Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki says over 4 million people reside within a 25 mile radius of his village. “Our excellent location has attracted continuing prime business and hospitality industry development… Tinley Park is home to major shopping areas serving our growing community and the surrounding region.” The Mayor is proud of the work his office has done with the business community “to revitalize our historic downtown, developing carefully planned incentives to encourage new construction and fa??ade improvements.” A major focus of the village’s economic development activity has been “the construction of an architecturally outstanding train station and an inviting town square,” which has made the Tinley Park downtown “a popular venue.” The location Wal-Mart coveted is near dozens of homes, so Tinley Park’s Plan Commission rejected Wal-Mart’s site plan. “The proximity of this big-box location (to the homes) … is totally unacceptable,” one Commissioner told Wal-Mart. His comments drew cheers from the audience of about 60 opponents at the March hearing. “The residents were here first.” A Chicago developer called Aetna Development has submitted plans for the “Prairie View Crossings,” which has no prairie and no view. The 370,000 s.f. retail complex is about the size of 8 football fields, not counting the parking lots. Within that complex, the shopping center would be anchored by a 176,000 sf. Wal-Mart supercenter. The 83 acre site is owned by the Lincoln-Way High School District 210. It was slated to be used for a high school at one time, and before that was just a sod farm. This is Aetna’s second bite of the apple, because it originally came in with a store that was over 200,000 s.f. in size. But the “smaller” store didn’t gain any accolades this time either. The Plan Commission, and the village’s planning director told Wal-Mart representatives that their project “lacked creativity,” and that they had failed to show why this land should be used for a retail mall. Tinley Park has a land use master plan which calls for this property to be used for a school, a government building or open space. “Is this development really necessary or desirable?” another Commissioner asked. The village’s planning director pointed out that nowhere else in Tinley Park does a huge retail project abut single-family homes. In other locations, either office uses or multi-family housing is placed in between shopping centers and single-family homes. Wal-Mart’s lawyer said Prairie View Crossings would generate $40 million in sales tax revenue and $27 million in property tax revenue over its first 20 years. He failed to calculate the cost of the project to the village. But Wal-Mart has to overcome the determined opposition of homeowners in the Brookside Glen subdivision, who argue that the enormous project will kick up traffic congestion and crime. Last month, 5 women were murdered in a Lane Bryant store across the street from where the proposed Wal-Mart would go. As an update to this story, this past week, the Tinley Park Plan Commission voted unanimously against the project. At the hearing, Aetna Development said it had moved the Wal-Mart another 800 feet from nearby homes — but they were not willing to spend more money to further protect the homeowners. “You can’t always throw money into a project and say it works,” one of Wal-Mart’s representatives was quoted by the South Town Star . The Commissioners insisted that the Wal-Mart be moved closer to the busy intersection. This argument over where the building will fit on the lot has been going on for about two years. This would be the only example in Tinley Park of a huge retail project directly abutting single-family homes. The village in the past has used multi-family housing or offices to serve as a buffer, or transition zone, between retail and single-family homes. Aetna proposed a 13 foot high berm to block the homes from the superstore. “This, if it’s done right, can be a win-win for everyone,” one Commissioner told Wal-Mart. “Unfortunately, I cannot recommend, nor will I recommend, the way (it’s) currently planned out. … I’m somewhat disappointed. I hope that we can meet again at the table.” Another Commissioner told Aetna that “it seems like everyone is spinning our wheels here. You’ve known all along the feelings of (homeowners). Can’t we come to a conclusion?” Aetna is now likely to appeal the Commissioner’s decision, and take its case to the Village Board, which has the final say on the project. The developer says Tinley Park will lose millions of dollars in sales and property taxes if this huge mall is not built — but no one has calculated the lost property taxes due to devaluation of nearby residences, plus the cost to the village of police, fire, and other maintenance expenses that come with a huge mall.
Instead of a big box store, neighbors told the Plan Commission that the land should be used for smaller, locally-owned stores. “If it has to go commercial, why not make it a niche?” one neighbor testified in March. The Village has a Main Street Business Commission whose job it is “to help create an atmosphere in the village that is conducive for small business growth.” Readers are urged to send an email to Mayor Zabrocki at the village clerk’s office: [email protected] Tell the Mayor, “The idea of a village-scale Wal-Mart supercenter is an oxymoron. Your planning director is correct: the Wal-Mart plan as presented ‘lacks creativity.’ Tinley Park is proud of its efforts to keep its downtown vibrant and attractive. Wal-Mart works against that goal. This project is also inconsistent with your Master Plan. Once you reject this too-large proposal, I urge you to work with your Planning Department to put a size cap on retail buildings of 65,000 s.f. to prevent this kind of suburban sprawl proposal from coming to Tinley Park again. You have 17 Wal-Marts within 20 miles of Tinley Park. You can’t buy small town quality of life at a Wal-Mart supercenter — but once they take it away from you, you can’t get it back at any price. This project abuts residential homes, and is just not a compatible use with surrounding neighbors. Please support your Plan Commission’s vote, and insist that Aetna scale its project down considerably. This is much too intense a land use for nearby homes. Make Aetna fit the Village’s vision — not the reverse. Big box is not the only alternative Aetna has.”