Things are heating up this week in Delray Beach, Florida — but it has nothing to do with the August heat.
On April 30, 2010, Sprawl-Busters reported that a proposed Wal-Mart in Delray Beach had the residents hot and bothered. No wonder. There are 20 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Delray Beach including a superstore 5 miles away in Boynton Beach. If residents don’t like the Boynton Beach superstore, there are 7 other Wal-Mart superstores within 20 miles. In addition, there is an existing Wal-Mart discount store right in Delray Beach on South Military Trail. Delray Beach has more Wal-Mart’s than pelicans.
In late April a confrontation broke out between Wal-Mart and neighbors in the Tropic Isle area of Delray. The very idea of a superstore juxtaposed with a tropic isle does seem incompatible.
Delray is known as the ‘village by the sea.’ Wal-Mart’s proposal to convert an old Buick dealership into a 24 hour superstore would change that into the “Wal-Mart by the sea.”
“It has everybody here in a state of fear,” the president of the Tropic Bay Condominium Association told the newspaper. The Association is a community of retirees mostly, whose property abuts the Wal-Mart site. “We’re merely 100 feet off the property line.”
Picture a neighborhood of small homes with tropical plants and canals near the Intracoastal Waterway. Some are townhomes, and condos — a small community unto itself. And now Wal-Mart wants in.
The Tropic Isle residents don’t want a huge superstore for a neighbor. They expressed their concerns that the superstore will bring more traffic and more crime to their community, as well as destroy the smaller-scale businesses that are more indigenous to the area. “It happens everywhere Wal-Mart goes,” said the Association president, Kelli Freeman.
Wal-Mart counters that the land they want is now an empty parking lot, so a superstore would make the neighborhood better. “It’s going to help the community,” a Wal-Mart public relations staffer said. “It’s on Federal Highway, and it’s an area that already has traffic.” In other words — it’s already been degraded, so what’s a little more of the same going to matter?
The neighbors are not convinced. Wal-Mart has applied for a rezoning from automotive to general commercial. This zoning change gives residents a chance to mount a legal appeal against the project that could drag on for years. They’re not about to let Wal-Mart trying pave over Paradise.
On August 16th, the residents will have their chance to warm up the Planning and Zoning Board meeting. According to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, Kelli Freeman, the president of the Tropic Isle Civic Association, claims Wal-Mart is hoping to push their rezoning request through before the snowbirds return to their Delray homes. Many residents leave during the summer months to their homes in the north.
The Planning & Zoning vote could happen this week, which means the project could go before the City Commission for final action by late September — while many residents are still away. The homeowners and condo owners in the Tropic Bay, Pelican Harbor, Tropic Harbor and Tropic Isle neighborhoods would return to a much-changed neighborhood.
If General Commercial rezoning is granted, opponents say the zone permits a very broad range of permissible uses, including many that are incompatible with surrounding residential uses. In contrast, the automotive zoning guidelines are much more limited to auto dealerships. Delray’s zoning is in needed of updating — but any proposals now would be too late to impact the Wal-Mart project, which is grandfathered.
The President of the Tropic Bay’s Association, Ray Kempf, told the Sun-Sentinel that this huge project would create increased crime incidents, increased traffic congestion, increased noise pollution, and decreased residential real estate values.
“One of the Tropic Bay buildings is 128 feet away from the property lines of this proposed Wal-Mart building,” Kempf noted. “Then there’s the retention pond issue. The stakes are already in the ground right there, and we believe during a major storm or rainfall that area will flood into our neighborhoods.”
To raise the temperature before the meeting, a group called Aurora’s Voice will be marching to the Planning and Zoning Board hearing. “We’ll be making posters and organizing our march as a way for citizens opposed to the Wal-Mart store to come together to publicly and peacefully express their opposition to this attempt by the world’s largest retailer to extract more profits from our local economy,” said a leader for the group.
Opponents have formed a group called ‘Delray First,’ and have retained a land use attorney, Michael Weiner. Kempf said local officials should realize that the proposed Wal-Mart is not a source of jobs or revenues for the city, because most of its sales will be transferred from existing merchants, including area grocery stores. Wal-Mart is a form of economic dislocation, not economic development.
But the main impact will be on local neighbors, because the scale of this project is simply incompatible with residential living. A Wal-Mart set aside in a commercial park is bad enough — but with residential property abutting it, the project becomes a win/lose situation, with the homeowners losing.
Kempf is worried that the Board’s format of only allowing residents a short time to present their case will be a major problem on August 16th. “The problem is, we don’t get much time at these board meetings,” he told the Sun-Sentinel. “We can call it Wal-Mart or Nordstrom’s — we don’t want the big box. We hope that this won’t go to the City Commission, and if it does, we have 1,200 residents eager to vote in the March 2011 city election.”
The absurdity of this proposal is that Wal-Mart already has superstore #2789 on Old Boynton Beach Road. That store is less than 3 miles from another Delray Beach store on Military Trail.
Kelli Freeman told the Sun-Sentinel she is concerned about the negative impact another superstore will have on the character of her community. “A Wal-Mart on every corner is not going to be the answer,” she complained.
In response to this pushback, Wal-Mart said it would step up its PR campaign with neighbors. “I’m not sure they (neighbors) have heard from Wal-Mart and we want them to hear from us and have a better sense of this Wal-Mart in this community,” the Wal-Mart spokesman explained. “There’s a real opportunity to discuss the value of what a store can bring.”
Readers are urged to email Mayor “Woodie” McDuffie at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor McDuffie, You have served on the Delray Beach Planning and Zoning Board. You know that Wal-Mart needs a zoning change from automotive to general commercial. This a big change in intensity of use for this sensitive area. A Wal-Mart superstore will represent a huge change in use from a car dealership, in terms of traffic, noise, light, 24 hours operation, etc. It’s like a night and day change for the Tropic Isle community.
To make matters worse — your community is over-saturated with big box stores. There are 20 Wal-Mart’s within 20 miles of Delray — including the Boynton Beach superstore and the Military Trail store just minutes away.
Wal-Mart is not a form of economic development, because most of its sales will come from smaller merchants — especially grocery stores. Municipal costs will go up, the value of residential properties nearby will go down, and neighbors will feel betrayed by city government. Every neighbor near this property will start lining up for a property tax abatement. In the end, you will see no added value from this store in terms of jobs or tax revenues.
There are many reasons to reject a rezoning. It is not an ‘as-of-right’ decision. I urge you to ask your Planning and Zoning Board to say No to the Wal-Mart rezoning, and not even move on to the site plan review. Listen to what your residents and condo Associations are telling you. If this project does come to the City Commission, you should take the lead in protecting the neighbors.”