The Mayor of Monument, Colorado thinks Wal-Mart is holding a grudge against the town, and is acting in a selfish way. He’s referring to Wal-Mart’s decision this week not to participate in a “public improvement fee” needed to reconstruct an interchange that will carry traffic to and from its store along Baptist Road. A report in the Colorado Springs Gazette indicated that Wal-Mart derailed plans by the Baptist Road Rural Transportation Authority’s financing plan for road improvements. BRRTA now has to consider going to voters to approve a 1% sales tax. Wal-Mart’s Monument store won’t participate in a proposed public improvement fee to pay for reconstruction of the Baptist Road and Interstate 25 interchange. BRRTA proposed a 0.5 to 1 percent public improvement fee, which would be paid for by shoppers at Monument Marketplace, which includes the Wal-Mart. BRRTA was going to use the money to issue bonds for the $16 million roadwork project. Wal-Mart told officials that it considered the fee a tax. “As a company, we do not have the power to change, approve or deny tax rates,” Wal-Mart Realty wrote to Monument Mayor Byron Glenn. “We believe this (fee), even though it is voluntary for retailers to join, is a tax and the voters, our customers, should have a voice.” The Mayor shot back, “I’m extremely disappointed at this decision. It just kills us. At worst, their decision will jeopardize a life. At best, it will delay this project 12, 18 months.” A Wal-Mart spokesman told The Gazette that his company had already paid about $800,000 in traffic impact fees and other road improvements. The retailer said the new fee would cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars, even though the fee would be paid by shoppers, not Wal-Mart. The company pleaded ignorance when asked by the newspaper to respond to the fee idea.”It was real conceptual,” the spokesman said of the fee. “It was never structured (regarding) time, or the terms. We weren’t even told what the increase was.” Mayor Glenn says the roadway is dangerous, and when Wal-Mart opens in the fall of 2006, it’s going to get worse. But in some measure the town of Monument has to lie in the bed it made. They approved a Home Depot in 2004, and recently added a Kohl’s to the same marketplace with Wal-Mart. The Mayor believes that Wal-Mart’s decision not to participate in the voluntary fee on shoppers is just sour grapes, because the retailer tried to get the town to annex land for them in 1999, and the town refused. Then, in 2004, the county rejected a Wal-Mart supercenter too. “I think Wal-Mart is still holding a grudge over being denied the south Baptist Road site,” Glenn told The Gazette. “I just think there’s bad blood. I think it’s very unneighborly of Wal-Mart to not participate in this, because it is a community need. To flat out say ‘no,’ I think, is very, very selfish.” Wal-Mart scoffs at that notion. “If there was any bad blood, we certainly wouldn’t have gone forward with a plan for the store,” a spokesman said. Now that Wal-Mart has opted out, the town will have to focus on a sales tax instead, or simply let the traffic in front of Wal-Mart deteriorate and threaten the public’s safety.
Wal-Mart says the roadway in front of their store will be adequate, but town officials disagree strongly. Even though Wal-Mart’s refusal to support the traffic fee plan threw the town off track, the real problem here is why the town approved this much big box sprawl in the first place. Some Wal-Mart traffic engineer told them that the traffic would flow better after a Wal-Mart arrives — that’s what they always say. But why did Monument officials approve so much new development, leaving themselves between Wal-Mart and a hard place? Bad planning and an uncooperative Wal-Mart has put them in a corner they might not easily get out of. You might call this “Monumental” bad planning.