This is another of those ‘Wal-Mart supercenter dies’ stories — but with a twist. In this case, Wal-Mart lost its developer. It happened this week in picturesque Isle of Wight County, Virginia. “Nestled on the shores of Virginia’s James River, Isle of Wight’s residents enjoy the rural nature of the County coupled with the quaint atmosphere of the two incorporated Towns, Smithfield and Windsor.” Rural and Quaint: the perfect combination for a Wal-Mart Supercenter. This Virginia county is 319 square miles of rolling terrain and planned development. “Rich in natural resources,” the county boasts, “and populated by residents smart enough to use them wisely, Isle of Wight has successfully blended industry with good, clean living.” The County’s Strategic Plan Values Statement says its goal is “preserving and protecting our rural heritage, our bountiful mix of natural resources and our natural beauty for present and future generations.” Isle of Wight County is trying hard to attract tourist dollars. The county describes itself as having “natural beauty, thriving economy and high standard of living.” The Isle of Wight calls itself “Virginia’s promised land.” But it appears that some promises made to Isle of Wight will not be kept. According to the Newport News Daily Press, a spokesman for a developer working on a Wal-Mart supercenter had to apologize to the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors this week. The developer, Armada Hoffler, dropped its much-heralded plan to build a Wal-Mart supercenter. Isle of Wight now joins the growing line up of communities left at the altar by Wal-Mart. “It’s not a decision we took lightly,” said Armada Hoffler Development’s president. “We’re sorry for this outcome.” The grandiose development plan included 1,087 homes, medical offices, office park, and a retail center anchored by Wal-Mart. The whole project was slated for the Benns Church-Brewer’s Neck intersection outside of the town of Smithfield. The developer blamed the struggling economy for the outcome. Armada Hoffler had proposed using a community development authority, under which the people who live in the project would be taxed to pay for infrastructure, such as roads and sewer. “Financing, with the collapse of the credit market, is at this point, in the near term, shaky at best,” the developer’s CEO said. Armada Hoffler asked the landowners for an extension on their contract to acquire the land, but they “did not feel they were in a position to accept that,” the developer said. The company says it lost $4 million on the deal. “I didn’t want you to put all this faith in us and us not able to perform, even though it would put us in a position to recoup our investment,” the developer told the Board of Supervisors. “We will remain open to opportunities to work with you and hope for a different outcome.” A Wal-Mart spokesman told the Daily Press that without Armada Hoffler, there’s no Wal-Mart. “Our contract was with Armada Hoffler,” the Wal-Mart official explained. “That means that Wal-Mart is also withdrawing from the application at this time. We’re still committed to better serving our customers in Isle of Wight County. We will continue looking for opportunities in the area. We’re looking to grow across the Hampton Roads area.” Pretty much the standard withdrawal speech from Wal-Mart.
The landowners say they have been trying to sell this property for the past five or six years. They told the Daily Press they were “burning the midnight oil to see what we can do.” Instead, Isle of Wight County should burn a little midnight oil to deal with future development in their area. The County’s rhetoric is all about the “rural nature” of the county, and “planned development,” yet they are entertaining enormous big box projects with suburban-style design. Readers are urged to contact Al Casteen, the member of the Board of Supervisors who represents the Smithfield District where this superstore project would have located. Casteen can be emailed at [email protected] with the following message: “Supervisor Casteeen, You are no doubt committed to the Isle of Wight’s Vision Statement to ‘preserve and protect’ the county’s rural heritage, and your ‘bountiful mix of natural resources and natural beauty.’ It is hard to reconcile that Vision with the Armada Hoffler/Wal-Mart suburban sprawl development. The entire county is fortunate that this wasteful project has fallen from its own weight. But now you need to truly protect your rural character by placing a size cap of 65,000 s.f. on retail buildings in your zoning code. One thing you cannot buy on a Wal-Mart shelf is small town quality of life. But once Wal-Mart takes it from you, you can’t buy it back at any price. Use this chance to protect your county from suburban sprawl.”