It is appropriate to mention at the top of this story that the township of Canton, Michigan is named after the city of the same name in China. What better location, then, for a huge superstore that largely imports cheap Chinese products? On March 8, 2006, Sprawl-Busters brought you the first-hand account of a citizen’s revolt in Canton, Michigan against a developer’s plans to convert a golf course into a “Lifestyle” retail center. Canton Trustee Todd Caccamo’s message to Sprawl-Busters at the time was short and to the point: “Great news: We just succeeded in stopping the Fellows Creek / Life Style Mall fiasco in Canton, MI!!! The citizens came out in force and held the politicians accountable!! It was a great day!” Homeowners had organized to stop the potential sale of a 197 acre, Canton-owned golf course to a developer. The West Bloomfield-based Lormax Stern Development Co. approached Canton officials last February to buy the golf course for $17 million to create a “Main Street-style retail center.” Canton officials claimed the project would bring in as much as $600,000 in tax revenue annually. Of the total land area, 100 acres of golf course would be converted to open space, and the remaining 97 acres would be developed. Lormax’s plans called for a huge, 600,000 s.f retail center — about the size of 12.5 football fields. The Fellows Creek golf course was owned by the township, and had been making money for the community. The golf course has been owned by the township since 1978. One resident against the project was quoted in the Detroit News as saying, “They’re trying to dig up my back yard and build a downtown. Why are we wanting to make another downtown?” Trustee Caccamo said he became opposed to the proposal after he heard residents’ concerns. “If this happened in my back yard, I’d be livid,” he said. The township dodged a bullet in 2006, but two years later, according to the Westland Observer newspaper, Wal-Mart is now knocking on Canton’s door. Wal-Mart wants to build a 176,000 s.f. supercenter on a 19 acre parcel on Michigan Avenue near Belleville Road. The Canton Board of Trustees approved the plan a year and a half ago, in June of 2007. But that was the same month that Wal-Mart announced a slow-down in new superstore growth, and the retailer did nothing with its land in Canton. Their site plan approval expired just after Christmas, 2008. All Wal-Mart had to do was ask the Trustees to re-approve the site plan, and two days ago, township officials unanimously obliged them. “Concurrently, they’re already working on a new site plan,” the township’s municipal services director told the Observer. “It doesn’t change the building foot print a lot, but it does change some of the architecture on the facade because they have a new standard. Sometime between March and July we’ll see demolition of the buildings (an old cement plant) on the property and they’re going to start the permitting process for the storm water work on the site. They wouldn’t be spending the money if they weren’t ready to begin the project.” The main factor here is that Wal-Mart already has a discount store in Canton, located at 39500 Ford Road, just a short drive from the proposed site. The supercenter will cause the old store to become another one of Wal-Mart’s ‘dark stores.’ Wal-Mart currently has 7 dark stores in Michigan, all but one of them well over 100,000 s.f. The Canton trade area does not need another large retailer. Wal-Mart has 10 stores within 23 miles of Canton, including a superstore 8 miles away in Livonia. So the new superstore is a loaded gun pointed at the head of existing grocery stores in Canton, like Kroger, Meijer, and Target. Canton Trustees seemed excited by the Wal-Mart pitch that this store will show off Wal-Mart’s “newest design,” which is merely a new logo on the building. The company has promised township officials “a full brick fa??ade” as well. Canton Trustee John Anthony said that his community was fortunate to see a project like this, given the state of the economy. “I think that says something about Canton,” Anthony said. “Obviously, the corporation did their homework. They wouldn’t build a facility this large unless they were confident it would make money for them. The housing market has dried up, but commercial development along Michigan Avenue is ideal, with Meijer also coming. They will be great anchors to Michigan Avenue.” Meijer, a Wal-Mart competitor, is also planning to build a second store in Canton.
Canton says it is located “in the heart of southeastern Michigan.” Situated conveniently between Detroit and Ann Arbor. As township officials like to brag, “Canton is a community that has it all.” Soon it will have a dead Wal-Mart as well, and quite possibly an empty grocery store or two. Fortunately for Canton, the population of Canton has been growing, from 57,040 people in 1990, to 84,269 by 2007. Even so, another large grocery store will draw its sales in large measure from existing grocery stores in the immediate trade area. People will not be traveling to shop in Canton, because they already have a Wal-Mart store where they live. The new Wal-Mart supercenter will thrive by taking sales from its “old” store, plus the added revenue from grocery sales. But the project as a whole represents no real added value to the local economy, since more than half of the new square footage at the supercenter will offer the same merchandise as the existing Wal-Mart discount store on Ford Road. Readers are urged to email Phil LaJoy, the Supervisor of the Canton Board of Trustees, at: [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Supervisor LaJoy, Approving the Wal-Mart supercenter in Canton was not just a mistake, it was a huge mistake. Trustees should immediately consider passing a zoning amendment that requires property owners who leave their retail establishments unoccupied for any similar use for more than 12 consecutive months, to underwrite the cost of demolition of said buildings, in order to restore the property to its pre-development condition. You are aware that Wal-Mart is replacing many of its discount stores with supercenters, shutting down the discount stores — which often stay on the market for years, deteriorating, and becoming blighted. I assume Wal-Mart has said they have no plans to shut the building, but talk to officials in the seven Michigan towns that have dead Wal-Marts currently on the market. This project will add very little to your economic base, because it largely transfers sales from its existing discount store, which will close, and takes the rest from existing grocery stores, and some population growth. But overall, this is a land-consumptive, automobile-oriented development that represents the worst in land use management, and will only increase your traffic and your crime — which means added public safety costs for your taxpayers. Act now, to prevent the township from inheriting financial costs of removing a dead store.”