Wal-Mart will be cluttering the roadways in Pennsylvania with another superstore — but this time the retailer is getting stuck with the bill for road improvements. On July 25, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that a newspaper poll released in the township of North Strabane, Pennsylvania revealed that people in this little town have had enough of Wal-Mart. North Strabane Township is located in northern Washington County, Pennsylvania, roughly 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. The Township has roughly 12,000 residents and is 27 square miles. The predominance of development in the Township is residential in nature, with almost half its land classified as agricultural. Because the township lies along several major transportation corridors (I-79, I-70, Route 19) the area has witnessed typical highway sprawl. North Strabane has eight Wal-Marts within 20 miles, including five supercenters. The corporate giant already has a supercenter just off the Route 19 exit from Interstate 70 in South Strabane, and proposed to build a store in nearby West Brownsville along route 40 as well. On June 27, 2007, supervisors in North Strabane approved a preliminary site plan for another Wal-Mart supercenter off the Route 519 exit of Interstate 79. The Observer-Reporter newspaper ran a poll asking its readers, “Should Wal-Mart open a store in North Strabane Township?” The results were 53% No, 47% Yes. Local officials in North Strabane paid no attention to local residents however, and this week, eleven months after giving their preliminary approval to the project, officials in North Strabane handed Wal-Mart a list of conditions, most of which deal with road improvements, which will cost the giant retailer $3 million to $3.5 million for changes to Route 519. The store has been downsized from 203,710 s.f. to 184,146 s.f. Turning lanes have to be added, the driveway has to be signalized, the road has to have turning lanes added. In addition, Wal-Mart will have to sign a developer’s agreement and complete a sewer plan for the state Department of Environmental Protection, as well as an erosion and sedimentation control plan. None of these agreements will kill the project, but at least taxpayers will not be asked to pay for the road improvements needed to accommodate this unnecessary store.
This Wal-Mart project in North Strabane was not proposed to fill an unmet market need, but because Wal-Mart wants more market share there. It’s all about market penetration. Such stores are not being built for folks on Main Street, but for investors on Wall Street. The area already is super-saturated with Wal-Marts, and this new store will largely draw its sales from existing stores in the area — including other Wal-Marts. This project is a waste of 61 acres of land that could have produced new jobs and revenues — instead of shifted them from other cash registers. Readers are urged to email North Strabane Township Manager, Frank Siffrinn, at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mr. Siffrinn, Adding another Wal-Mart superstore to the mix of 8 existing Wal-Marts with 20 miles of your office is certainly not going to add value to your township’s economic future. Before you sign any developer’s agreement with Wal-Mart, make sure you limit operating hours so this huge store is not open all night, ask them to pay for their own store security, and make sure they post a demolition bond to pay for tearing down the store if they abandon its use as an existing superstore for 12 months. Without such protections, you will end up with a noisy neighbor 24/7, added criminal activity, and, eventually an empty store that becomes blighted. These are the basic costs these days of doing business with Wal-Mart. Other towns have learned the hard way that Wal-Mart increases crime, causes other stores to fail, and ultimately will leave the township when this building no longer suits their needs — for any reason. For a community with only 12,000 people, and half of its land still agricultural use — this push into suburban sprawl will be a mistake that voters will remember for years to come.”