Local residents in North Aurora, Illinois have been gathering signatures in opposition to a proposed Wal-Mart, and testified this week against a proposed superstore. The project requires the annexation of land into the Village, and 18 out of 20 people who spoke at this week’s hearing did not want the store. “We are not against Wal-Mart. We are against the location,” one resident was quoted as saying by the Beacon News. “We are against what is proposed.” The citizens are asking the Village Board to abstain from voting until residents have a chance to review the materials submitted by Wal-Mart to village officials. On April 9 the Village board will consider the proposal again, in what the newspaper called ” a third sparring match.” “We are opposed to a 24 hour Wal-Mart being squeezed on the land,” another resident said. The neighbors complain that single-family homes and townhouses are too close to the project, and that their rights to enjoy their homes are being unfairly jeopardized. “Are we lower-class citizens?” a resident asked the board. A group called North Aurora Together was formed after the first Village Board meeting in early March meeting. The group began gathering signatures against the project in the Waterford Oaks neighborhood and throughout the village. The group has gathered nearly 400 signatures against the store. During this week’s hearing, one resident got up and told the Village Trustees to “keep in mind” that the Wal-Mart development would help pay for a police station. Opponents asked that before anything happen with the annexation, that independent traffic, environmental and noise studies be conducted. But Sue McLaughlin, Village administrator, told the residents to contact officials at Wal-Mart or the engineer of the village to obtain any impact studies. McLaughlin told the Beacon News she was not “pro Wal-Mart,” simply pro-commercial development that generates a lot of tax revenue. “Wal-Mart brings something that others do not,” she said — $1 million in tax revenue for the village. The newspaper noted that area residents were more concerned about the future of the town and the decline in their property values if a Wal-Mart superstore were built.
The resident who pointed out that Wal-Mart would help pay for a new police station was raising a pertinent issue. If Wal-Mart is approved, the village is likely to see a major spike in its public safety costs — just as dozens of other communities across the country have experienced. Wal-Mart will help increase the need for more police protection, frequent on-site responses to everything from petty shoplifting, to stolen vehicles, and more serious personal crimes. The Village will definitely want a new police station if the Wal-Mart supercenter is built — in fact, they should consider building the police station right in Wal-Mart’s parking lot to cut down on travel costs. Some communities have put police substations in Wal-Mart parking lots, and even inside the superstore. The fact is, Village Trustees have no idea what the revenue impacts of a Wal-Mart will be on North Aurora. They have heard the developer’s estimates of new revenue, but they have not estimated the gross costs to the village of public services, like police, fire, water and sewer capacity. In many communities, local officials have begun to appreciate that large scale retail projects can be a net revenue loser. Local officials who count on Wal-Mart’s everyday low prices to help them lower property tax burdens on homeowners, have been disappointed to see that the cost of running their community just keeps climbing. But even after years of adverse publicity over the issue of crime and public costs, many local officials accept on face value that Wal-Mart brings in “new” revenues. In North Aurora, resident should push village officials to hire an appraiser to calculate the lost property value that will be suffered by every homeowner with a property along the route to Wal-Mart. All those homeowners should be lining up for tax abatements now, to avoid the rush when Wal-Mart first opens its doors. Annexation of land can be appealed to the courts, so hopefully this citizen’s group is already in serious discussions with a land use attorney.