WYTV Channel 33 didn’t get to film the Wal-Mart public hearing in Canfield, Ohio. And it’s not because they had other news to cover. According to the TV station, “Wal-Mart officials would not let us go inside the meeting with our camera, and it’s no wonder, because the more than two hundred people inside defiantly rejected the idea of a Wal-Mart coming to their community.” Sprawl-Busters reported on November 23, 2007, that Wal-Mart needed a zoning change to squeeze its way into Canfield, a small community of roughly 7,000 people that has lost population since the year 2000. The township’s motto is: “A Nice Place to Call Home.” But at this week’s hearing, Wal-Mart definitely did not feel at home. Located in Mahoning County at the intersection of Route 224 and Route 46, the township is about ten miles southwest of Youngstown. In 1992, the city of Canfield, which is surrounded completely by Canfield Township, voted to secede from the township. This created two separate governmental entities — one a city, the other a township. Canfield is a relatively affluent suburb, with strict zoning regulations that prohibit government housing, large signs, overgrown lawns, and above-ground pools. A tree-lined “Village Green” sits at the heart of the New England-style village. The idea of a Wal-Mart supercenter coming to the township does not sit well with many residents. There are already seven Wal-Marts within 23 miles of Canfield, including a discount store 5 miles away in Austintown, and a supercenter 9 miles away in Salem. In November, Wal-Mart put the township on notice that it was going to delay asking the county’s planning commission for a zoning change on 30 acres of land it wants for another supercenter — about half of which needs to be rezoned. In October, the giant retailer went to the planning commission — but when it became clear that the commission was going to vote against the zone change, Wal-Mart withdrew its petition. Wal-Mart then went to the township directly, to its zoning commission, and told local officials why the land should be rezoned from residential to commercial. Wal-Mart wanted officials in Canfield to approach the county to amend the land use plan to change the parcel to commercial. But the Canfield zoning commission told Wal-Mart to go back to the county planning commission, and once the county board had voted on it, the issue would move to the township commission — which would hold a public hearing. The final vote up or down on the rezoning would be made by the Township trustees. Township and city officials are saying that nearly everyone they talk to is against the store’s coming to Canfield. “Ninety-five percent or more don’t like the idea,” Andrew Skrobola, city council president told the Vindicator newspaper. “It would cause extreme traffic problems and a deterioration of competition.” Township Trustees said traffic on Route 224 is already a nightmare. They told the newspaper that Wal-Mart’s presentation to the township zoning board was vague. “It was as poor a presentation as you can get,” Trustee Paul Moracco said. “99.9 percent” of the people he met at the polls in the Nov. 6 election told him, unsolicited, that they are against the store’s coming here. So this week’s tough reception in McMahon Hall was no surprise. The Schools superintendent asked Wal-Mart if they planned to challenge property tax assessments and shortchange the school district. Another resident asked if Wal-Mart has employees working full time to get tax breaks and appealing assessments from local towns. It was all downhill from there. One local businessman warned that Wal-Mart would drain the resources of the township’s police department. He cited statistics from the town of Boardman, Ohio, where 500 police calls a year are attributed to Wal-Mart. The Vindicator quoted one neighbor as saying, “Does common sense ever come into play? We have to live there and deal with that traffic every day. Do you ever say, ‘The impact on this community is not worth what we’re trying to accomplish here?'” Wal-Mart tried to switch the conversation to their “green” store design, and talk about skylights, HVAC energy savings, and other items that left the crowd unmoved.
Wal-Mart has to present its request for rezoning for about half of the land it wants from residential to business. That request must be granted by the Mahoning County Planning Commission. Step two brings them to the township’s Zoning Commission, and the final vote is in the hands of the Canfield Township trustees. But even if the trustees support the rezoning, the residents of Canfield township can place the matter before the voters in a referendum. (Something Wal-Mart could engineer as well.) Wal-Mart also could appeal the township’s decision to court. But when Wal-Mart was asked what they would do if the township does not approve the rezoning, Wal-Mart’s spokesman said, “We wouldn’t build.” The public hearing continues tonight. Wal-Mart has no right to keep TV cameras out of a public hearing, so perhaps this session will be on film. Local officials are under no requirement to rezone land for any developer. The land use plan says this land is supposed to be used for houses. Officials can simply say they want to keep the parcel residential to avoid the congestion that large scale commercial activity would bring. Canfield township is governed by three Trustees. Readers are urged to call the Trustees Chairman Paul Moracco (330-318-4079), William Reese (330-533-7722) and Randy Brashen (330-799-3087) directly with the following message: “Canfield is a nice place to call home, but don’t let Wal-Mart call it home. You’ve already got more than enough Wal-Mart’s nearby, and most of the residents in the city and the township don’t want a superstore changing the character of Canfield. Wal-Mart has no right to a zone change. The traffic impacts are enough to reject their rezoning request. All they will bring you is more traffic, more crime and more empty storefronts.”