I first reported on the brewing battle against Wal-Mart in Ellsworth, ME in a June 30,2000 newsflash. Here’s an update from CORD, the Citizens Organized for Responsible Development. It seems that the richest corporation in the world can’t afford to locate in Ellsworth, Maine: “Great News!!!! After a 10 month struggle with the planning board, the appeals board, and the city council, WalMart was granted a permit to build a supercenter in Ellsworth in February, 2001. The permit had to be exercised within one year. As the deadline approached the local CORD group began to wonder where Wal-Mart was – no activity at all was seen at the site. On Friday, January 25, the news broke. Wal-Mart had decided that the mitigating costs required by the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) were too great at almost $4M, and, having failed in their campaign to get MDOT to reduce this, Wal-Mart decided to withdraw. CORD conducted a heavy educational campaign to MDOT regarding our concern over the traffic problems that would be created by the development, and also about our concern that the mitigation charges would not be adequate to cover the actual costs to the state. Part of this campaign was a letter and card mailing to the head of MDOT. Then after the mitigation estimates had been completed, we let MDOT know that we expected them to stick to the figure, and not to bargain it away. And now victory! After our defeat at the hands of the various town boards, we decided not to allow this to happen again. A resignation by a member of the seven member city council in March called for a special election in June. Three more seats were up for election in November. Through a vigorous and well planned campaign CORD was able to get CORD-endorsed candidates elected in all four seats, giving them a majority of the council. The new council elected one of their own to the council chairman’s seat, an important move, since it will give them control over appointments to the various boards. A Comprehensive Plan Review Committee, which had been dying on the vine, has been given new life, and a new deadline, by the new council. We will never know for a certainty whether or not CORD made the difference in getting MDOT to stand up to WalMart, but the feeling here is that we did.” So a sprawl victory was linked to a political victory, and Wal-Mart is out! According to the Bangor News, Wal-Mart has tried to turned local sentiment against their own state government. Keith Morris, Wal-Mart’s PR flak, was quoted as saying the $4 million in “traffic mitigation” to widen the streets and intersections was too steep for the Arkansas Giant.”We’re not going to be able to go forward with that site, which is very unfortunate,” Morris lamented.”There’s no way we can bear the cost of off-site traffic improvements.” Wal-Mart already has a 94,000 s.f. store in Ellsworth — but they needed wider aisles. To escape the roadwork costs caused by their out of scale project, Wal-Mart even tried to get other sprawl developers in the area, notably W/S Development, a notorious Wal-Mart developer, to cough up some road cash. MDOT, for its part, defended the practice of requiring developers to pay for improvements to roads that would be affected by their projects. Although the land-owner complained about the MDOT position, the citizen’s group said that MDOT took the right position. “We are very grateful to MDOT for holding its ground,” CORD said. The group said that a retail sector dominated by a few giant stores was not in the interest of the Ellsworth economy. “The diversity of the economic development is important to us,” CORD said. Residents are now sponsoring a petition drive to implement a moratorium on the citywide ballot.The group needs only 100 more signatures to place the referendum on the ballot. The city meanwhile has been making tax financing deals with developers. The Wal-Mart site was part of a 96-acre tax increment financing district, which the city has been counting on to pay for certain city development projects, like dredging a local river, and developing a business park. But Wal-Mart is unwilling to use its enormous corporate financial power to pay what the state says it ought to cover to bring customers safely to its store, so the supercenter has melted down, and the city has to rethink how to pays for development.
For more information on the impressive organizing work done by CORD, contact [email protected]