Wal-Mart officials are admitting publicly that it’s getting harder to convince the public that supercenters make good neighbors. In Tegay Cay, South Carolina, a citizen’s group call Us Against the WAL has organized an effort to stop a 203,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter on Route 160 and Gold Hill Road. According to The Herald newspaper, residents charge that a Wal-Mart supercenter will have a negative impact on the quality of life in the community, hurt smaller retailers, lower property values in some of York County’s upscale neighborhoods and jack up traffic and crime. Wal-Mart spokesman Glen Wilkins, admitted to reporters that “Wal-Mart has been running into increased difficulty getting supercenters open. A lot of it is a misconception, though.” Wilkins also noted that Wal-Mart has been getting some bad press on the issues of sexual harassment and forcing employees to work ‘off the clock’ without extra pay. The spokesman said the company has begun to take measures to improve its image, like a major media campaign to bolster its reputation as a good employer and good corporate citizen. “We want to be a better corporate neighbor and serve the community better,” Wilkins said. But residents can take heart that the Tega Cay Wal-Mart is not a done deal. In fact, the Tega Cay City Council must first vote to annex 15 acres abutting the 122-acre Stonecrest development, which itself was annexed into the city only last year in an effort to boost the city’s tax revenues. The Wal-Mart site is also close to another residential subdivision called Baxter Village. City officials have scheduled a public hearing on the annexation on July 22nd, and two subsequent meetings will have to be held after that. In addition to annexing the land, the City Council also has to amend the development agreement it has with Stonecrest Enterprises, which built the neighboring homes. None of the residents expected their upscale homes to have a Wal-Mart 24/7 supercenter as a nightlight. “We just don’t see the need for a Wal-Mart,” Teri Ackerman, the leader of the opposition group told the Herald. Tega Cay prides itself on being a recreational community, she said. “How does that fit into recreation?” Residents are also fully aware that there are three Wal-Marts already within 10 miles of Tega Cay and 10 are within 22 miles. Tega Cay school and York county officials are trying to woo residents with the promise of a tax windfall if the supercenter land is annexed. City officials claim that the $11 million Wal-Mart project would generate an estimated $237,000 a year in taxes, with $130,000 of that going to Fort Mill schools, $69,000 to the city and $38,000 to the county. Tega Cay’s Mayor, Bob Runde, worries that if his city says no, some other community just outside the city will get all that revenue. “We get all the problems and none of the benefits,” the Mayor said. “It’s a factor but not the deciding factor.” What Tega Cay and County officials have not done is conduct any impact study that examines the public costs of bringing in Wal-Mart that offsets the revenues. Until such a study is done, local officials are whistling in the dark. They also have no clue what the store will do the home values nearby. Clearly, homeowners are not uppermost in the Mayor’s mind.
Wal-Mart supercenters and large residential developments are not compatible land uses. They need to be buffered from each other, and have transitional uses in between. One way to mitigate the problem is to scale down the superstore. Residents in Tega Cay could ask for the “Urban 99” store from Wal-Mart, a 99,000 s.f. supercenter. But even that is twice the size of a football field. Homeowners are gathering data on what such a huge project will do to their property values. Every homeowner near a Wal-Mart should be lined up to seek a property tax abatement from the city — taking more revenues off the bottom line that the Mayor seems so focused on.