A Tennessee developer is trying to build 204,000 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore across from the Clearbrook, Virginia Elementary School. But a group called Citizens for Smart Growth hopes to teach a few lessons to HolRob Investments, the developer, and the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors. The defendants tried to have the citizen’s lawsuit dismissed, but their motion was denied by the court, and the project is heading to a Circuit Court judge on March 12th. The CSG group charges that the project’s review process was collapsed into just six weeks, ending in a 4-1 vote by the County Board last October. The citizen’s group wants the case remanded back to the County’s Planning Commission, with a full traffic study to be done this time. The group has retained Richmond, Virginia attorney Phillip Strother, who also served as the victorious lead counsel for citizens in Front Royal, Virginia before the Virginia Supreme Court. According to the Cave Spring Connection newspaper, CSG has to raise at least $15,000 to pursue their legal appeal. The residents point out that the land Wal-Mart wants was intended for a “village concept” in the county’s Overlay District guidelines. The Clearbrook Overlay District Concept calls for small commercial and retail development similar in feeling to a village street — the antithesis of a Wal-Mart supercenter. “The first time the overlay is questioned the county rolls [over],” one CSG member complained. “Some folks have said we’re doing away with the overlay,” the County’s Administrator said “But they’re complying with the overlay” by seeking the special-use permit it allows,” he added. “All of us hoped for more of a type of development” in style and size, the Administrator said — things like doctor’s offices, sit-down restaurants and small office buildings. The county granted a special use permit to Wal-Mart that allowed them to completely ignore the 50,000 s.f. size cap suggested in the overlay zone — and instead build 4 times larger. But the major issue is traffic, CSG says — the fact that the state Department of Transportation never did a final traffic study. CSG also has produced its own rendering of what a “Clearbrook Old Towne Village” concept should look like, with “brown and stone exteriors…pitched green roofs… a kiosk [that guides] folks to Tanglewood and Valley View Malls…sidewalks that allow people to easily travel through the village…trees around the village buffer the development from the adjacent Blue Ridge Parkway.” In approving a Wal-Mart supercenter, and throwing out the size cap, the county clearly pulled an obvious bait ‘n switch on local residents.
In late October, when Wal-Mart received County approval, the retailer predicted that work on the store would begin in the first quarter of 2007. Wal-Mart revealed that approval of the new supercenter would result in the closing of a smaller Wal-Mart discount store about a mile north of the supercenter site. The “old” Wal-Mart is 17 years old — about the end of its lifespan for the retailer. Wal-Mart claims it is just leasing the existing store, and would have to negotiate with the landlord, yet city tax records, indicate the building is owned by “Wal-Mart Stores Inc.” So this store will be added to the more than 300 “dark stores” Wal-Mart already has on the market. The immediate goal of Citizens for Smart Growth is to raise enough money to carry on their legal challenge to the county’s flawed process. Anyone wishing to help the group financially should email: [email protected]