In early March of 2008, the Greene County Record newspaper in Virginia reported that site preparation work was well underway at the “Gateway Center” project in the town of Ruckersville, Virginia, which will be anchored by a 153,000 s.f. Wal-Mart and a Lowe’s. The entire population in Greene County in 2007 was less than 18,000 people. There’s already a Wal-Mart 11 miles away in Charlottsville, Virginia, so Ruckersville residents addicted to Chinese imports don’t have far to travel to have it all. But some of Greene County’s smaller business are nervous about the superstore’s arrival. The Chairman of Greene’s Board of Supervisors, Steve Catalano, told the Record that there are some small businesses in the County that “could be vulnerable” to bigger businesses. “I’m a little scared,” the owner of the Great Valu grocery store in nearby Stanardsville told the newspaper. “But regardless as to whether it’s coming or not, we have to put our best foot forward. Everybody that walks in here knows everybody; that is distinct from the big market people. We’re going to be putting our best foot forward; focusing on customer service.” The Food Lion grocery store in Ruckersville has invested $2 million in renovations. All of these merchants can now take a deep breath, because it was announced this week that the Ruckersville Wal-Mart is now on hold. New construction was supposed to start in the spring of 2008, with an opening in late 2009. But this week, a Wal-Mart spokesman said that construction will not begin until the spring of 2009, with an opening in the spring of 2010. “Wal-Mart has been revaluating our U.S. stores’ growth strategy over the past year, decreasing the number of Supercenters we open in the US over the next three years,” a company spokesman said. “This shift has moved the scheduled grand opening of hundreds of proposed Supercenters across the nation, including the Ruckersville Wal-Mart, which is now scheduled to open in spring 2010. We are still looking forward to serving our Greene County customers and bringing services and tax dollars to the area.” The new store won’t do either of those things.
The Gateway Center is near the US 33 and 29 intersection, one of the worst intersections in Greene County. Greene describes itself as a “small, rural county in the Piedmont region of Central Virginia… Blessed with the scenic beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west.” Greene County has a Comprehensive Plan which encourages business and industrial development while protecting the County’s rural beauty. “Greene County is blessed with a bounty of natural attractions and its mountainous, rural and agricultural character,” the Comp Plan says. “These features should be promoted in a dedicated county effort to foster tourism.” This Wal-Mart supercenter is entirely inconsistent with such Comprehensive Plan goals. Like many rural communities, Greene county is searching for ways to enhance its tourist appeal. On the one hand, the county says: “Scenic mountain/farm views, forests, open space and fields, clean water and air, wildlife, bio-diversity and a rural night sky are natural treasures available to the citizens of Greene. Their value is often not recognized until overwhelmed by growth or by allowing development that adversely impacts one or more elements.” On the other hand, the County approves a “gateway” project based on two sprawling big box stores. Greene county has doubled its population since 1981, but its overall population is still quite small. “As a county, we must encourage economic development,” the Comprehensive Plan says, “but as a community, we must ensure that the economic development supports our objectives and preserves our values.” The Plan says that commercial development “must add economic value to the community, be consistent with the County’s Comprehensive Plan and contribute to Greene County’s future.” A Wal-Mart superstore adds little value — because most of its sales will come from the local grocery store, the local hardware store, other area merchants, and the Wal-Mart in Charlottsville. The Greene Plan even says, “Greene has avoided becoming a sprawling, unplanned bedroom suburb… Greene’s growth has become digestible and affordable.” But the Gateway Center will change all that. The primary commercial growth area for Greene County is Ruckersville, due mainly to the fact that Routes 29 and 33 run through the area. As it encompasses the most heavily traveled highways in the County and will be the largest town center, this area will be of greatest concern for traffic congestion. Yet the County has approved two large, automobile-oriented boxes right at that intersection. The Plan says the County is supposed to “Promote efforts to reduce traffic… encouraging commercial and residential developers to include pedestrian and bicycle lanes in all site plans.” Readers are urged to email the Chairman of the Greene County Board of Supervisors, Steve Catalano, at [email protected], who was the Vice Chairman of the committee that wrote the Comprehensive Plan, with this message: “Dear Chairman Catalano, the Gateway Center project, with its Lowe’s and Wal-Mart big box anchors, is incompatible in so many ways with the County’s Comprehensive Plan that you helped write. It says in that plan that the County should “Screen target business segments against overall attractiveness and fit with Greene County strengths to identify focus for marketing efforts.” A Wal-Mart three times the size of a football field does not fit into tiny Ruckersville. Your goal of maintaining “smooth traffic flow through Ruckersville” will be shot, and the goal of limiting new traffic signals along Route 29 and 33 will also be blown. You boast that the County has avoided becoming a sprawling, unplanned bedroom suburb — but then you approve a huge suburban style mall. This is not digestible growth. This will only hurt area merchants, drive up crime and traffic, and turn off tourists who already have plenty of Wal-Marts where they come from. One of the best things that has happened to Ruckersville is the announcement that Wal-Mart’s project is delayed. I can only hope that they scrub it entirely — but in the interim, its time for Greene County to think Green, and put a size cap on retail buildings of 60,000 s.f. Any retailer can build a store that fits into such a cap, and by doing so, better fit into the goals of your Comprehensive Plan. As it stands now, this project adds little economic value to Ruckersville, and will be one of the biggest land use mistakes in the county’s long history.”