The small town of Charlevoix, Michigan (pop. 5,000) says “This is our town, not Wal-Mart’s.” A local group called This Is Our Town has gathered signatures from more than 4,000 residents opposing the construction of a 155,800 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter along a major highway. All of the exiting traffic from this store will dump out onto a road described as a “two lane country road.” The developer assembled 7 separate parcels to come up with a Wal-Mart they say will be “unique to, and reflective of” the community that calls itself “Charlevoix the Beautiful.” Wal-Mart has promised “mini facades designed to increase the pedestrian scale of the project” and “to break up the size of the building into smaller, indidvidual building elements.” But local residents want no part of this charade in Charlevoix. There are already 3 Wal-Marts within an easy drive of town, including one 14 miles away in Petoskey. Residents argue that the project does not fit the town’s Master Plan, which “discourages commercial strip development.” They say the project also fails to meet at least five of the town’s 9 standards for site plan approval, because it is incompatible with the character of the general vicinity, will alter the essential character of the neighborhood, will have a negative impact on the value of land in the community, will create excessive additional public costs for police, fire, and road maintenance, and is inconsistent with the Master Plan. Although the town and city population expands to 30,000 during the resort season, for months on end the community is a very small, quiet place to live, and intentionally so. A Wal-Mart superstore represents a disruptive break with the town’s quality of life. The supercenter proposal will come before the town’s Planning Commission this week. “This will be a defining moment in the history and the future of our community,” said John Winn, a member of This Is Our Town, which sponsored a forum last week featuring Sprawl-Buster Al Norman. A Wal-Mart Supercenter, with its full grocery store and other services in addition to retail, could increase food supply in Charlevoix County 42 percent, Norman said. Charlevoix County’s population, however, has grown only 1 percent since 2000, according to census figures, he said.
Charlevoix is described as a “recreational paradise”, a city on three lakes in north Michigan. When I spoke there last week, nearly 300 people turned out on a Thursday night to learn more about sprawl. This is a community that lives on tourism, and has to be very careful not to imitate the land use patterns of other communities that have been runover by asphalt and concrete malls. The town has an ailing Kmart, and a compact downtown that will see no benefit from the Wal-Mart location along Route 31. The decision on the case rests with the Township, but the surrounding city of Charlevoix has the power to deny a sewer line to the property. The city’s Mayor has stated publicly his opposition to the superstore plan. For local contacts in Charlevoix, contact [email protected]