It’s on to Plan B, as Wal-Mart was handed another defeat this week in Fargo, North Dakota, a city that already has one more Wal-Mart than needed. Yesterday the Fargo Planning Commission voted against a project slated for Interstate 29. As usual, when Wal-Mart loses, they talk about what a sad day it is for their customers. “It’s still a valuable piece of property,” Wal-Mart bemoaned, ” but for the most part we’re focused on building a second store on the south side of Fargo because our customers need it.” Yes, and the need wider aisles too. But none of those customers seemed to be present in the hearing room last night, when, according to The Forum newspaper, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people erupted into applause after the planning commissioners voted unanimously to deny a “growth plan amendment” that would expanded the amount of commercial land Wal-Mart wanted from 10 acres to 50 acres. School officials argued that the superstore was a way to raise revenue for the schools, but opponents argued that a big-box store just wasn’t consistent with the proposed area. “Look all around it. All you see is residential,” one neighbor testified. One Planning Commissioner complained that Wal-Mart’s traffic study only examined trips in the peak hours. As is customary, City planning staff recommended expanding the commercial zone, saying that existing houses would be a quarter-mile from the commercial development. Another Planning Commissioner said the plan was simply “too dramatic of a change from what was known to people that built around here.” But residents in Fargo can’t let down their guard yet. The Planning Commission vote was advisory in nature only, and the City Commission will get the final say later in May.
The landowner, who stood to make millions from this deal, said that the Fargo School District will lose a significant amount of money if the Wal-Mart does not produce sales taxes for Fargo. “The working person has not got money. He’s going to leave Fargo,” the landowner warned. “You’ll have a city of snobs.” If the project had been approved, the landowner wouldn’t have to worry about the snobs in Fargo. He’d be too busy just counting up his windfall. It’s a pathetic state of affairs when a city has to county on building superstores to pay for educating its children. This Fargo/West Fargo competition for sales taxes is a poster child argument for regional land use planning and retention by the state of all sales taxes, with redistribution by formula. As long as communities try to steal each other’s sales taxes to pay for education or operating budgets, bad land use decisions, and a surplus of malls, are going to be the result.