Wal-Mart got the message loud and clear this week in North Aurora, Illinois, when village officials turned down an annexation plan on a 5-1 vote, and pulled the legs out from under Wal-Mart’s plan for a huge tax subsidy. Sprawl-Busters reported on March 30, 2007 that residents in North Aurora were gathering signatures to oppose a Wal-Mart supercenter proposal. Now, just six weeks later, the retailer’s plans are in ruins. The Village Board held a four hour public hearing, and late in the evening of May 7th, voted not to annex land and rezone it for a 24 hour Wal-Mart superstore. “We’re very pleased,” one opponent told the Beacon News. “The residents spoke and were heard. That’s refreshing.” The vote was a solid victory for the citizens group, North Aurora Together, which fought the retailer as soon as its proposal was filed. The 203,819 s.f. store would have had the homes of hundreds of residents as abutters. Wal-Mart proposed to build a 13-foot-high berm with a fence and trees to buffer the residents. But the neighbors did not want to be walled in. “We want something unique,” said Valerie Shoger, one of the leaders of NAT. Wal-Mart made a two hour presentation, reviewing all the details of the project, but failed to convince the Village Trustees to ignore their constituents. “Is this the best fit?” Trustee Mark Gaffino asked. “Not just in tax dollars, but in residential use? Is it something I’d be proud of for years to come, or am I just settling? I cannot support Wal-Mart at this time.” “I’m not surprised by the vote,” one opponent told the News. “People feel really strongly about this.” One insidious detail of the Wal-Mart plan was their proposal to take advantage of a $2.3 million rebate of sales taxes over a 10 year period. Wal-Mart, which just announced $344 billion in net sales for 2007, had its hand out for corporate welfare in North Aurora — but local officials were not feeling magnanimous in this case. “I think they (incentives) are becoming more difficult,” Village Administrator Sue McLaughlin said Tuesday. “Historically, incentives should be for extraordinary costs, such as infrastructure, etc. A lot of infrastructure already is in place, and the board feels they need to have a hardship to even have that discussion.” Trustee Dale Berman said he was against waiving or reducing sewer, traffic impact and permit fees to the extent Wal-Mart wanted. “I don’t think this particular project on that particular site deserves that incentive,” Berman was quoted as saying by The Daily Herald. Another Trustee said this prime real estate did not need a tax incentive — even though the town has given Target and a regional chain, Woodman’s, similar corporate subsidies.
Valerie Shoger, from North Aurora Together, told the media, “I am overwhelmed with emotion. I would like to thank the trustees for putting the people first,” The Village Administrator praised the efforts of local residents. “It’s a very interesting process to watch,” said the Administrator. “I appreciate seeing these residents value the village so much… they did a very good job in organizing and getting the word out on how they feel and speaking on behalf of themselves as a group and letting their feelings be known. It was democracy at its best.” Meanwhile, Wal-Mart officials told the Kent County Chronicle that they needed to evaluate their next steps. “We have not made a final decision,” a Wal-Mart spokesman said. “It is problematic for us to put ourselves in an adversarial position with the city after they have made their decision. It is clear that they do not want a Wal-Mart in their community.” After an admission like that, there’s little left to add.