What you can’t get by regulation, try to get by litigation. Wal-Mart is winding up its legal department to appeal a decision against them in a picturesque little community in the deep South. Sprawl-Busters reported on January 30, 2008, that Wal-Mart was trying to get into Lady’s Island, South Carolina. Wal-Mart applied for a permit for a 195,000 s.f. store, plus two other retail stores, and a fast-food restaurant, all on 26 acres of wooded land. Lady’s Island lies within the city limits of Beaufort, South Carolina. The city of Beaufort has a population of just over 12,000 people. The city is busy building a new municipal complex and some streetscape improvements. Beaufort boasts of its “Landmark Historic District,” its “horse-drawn carriage” tours, its “unique, fully restored central business district filled with shops and restaurants all within walking distance of beautiful downtown inns and hotels.” In short, it’s a charming “low country” southern town just minutes from the beaches of Hilton Head. As the city says, “Beaufort has it all!” But the area also has plenty of Wal-Marts — which they don’t mention on their website. There are three Wal-Marts within 20 miles of Beaufort, including a supercenter on Robert Smalls Parkway in Beaufort. So there is no market need for more Wal-Marts. “I think it could be fairly devastating to (our business),” said the owner of a local hardware store. “It will affect every business on Lady’s Island. (Wal-Mart does) everything from hardware and gift shops to restaurants and carpet and bicycle shops. They affect everybody.” The City Council’s Vision Statement says that “Beaufort is a community of choice, building on our history and working in harmony with our natural environment to provide diverse opportunities for the highest quality of life.” The city has hired a consulting firm to deal with traffic on Route 21, the Boundary Street Corridor. The city also says it is concerned with “the preservation of open space, particularly Beaufort’s waterfront viewshed,” and has adopted an Open Space Master Plan. It’s hard to see how a Wal-Mart on Route 21 with 12,000 or more car trips a day fits into that Master Plan. Ironically, the City Council has directed staff to identify “those economic sectors that will increase wage levels, provide training in desirable skills, and diversify the economic base of the City.” That’s certainly not a Wal-Mart. The city set up a Redevelopment Commission to assist “in the recruitment and retention of high quality industry, without compromising Beaufort’s unique quality of life.” Wal-Mart filed its site plan with the city on January 18th, but on February 11th , Beaufort’s planning director said the development was not compatible with the site’s master plan, which dates back to 2003, when the land was first annexed into the city. The master plan said there would be 21 buildings on the site, with the largest building being 71,000 s.f. This week, in response to the planning director’s decision, the engineering firm appealed the city’s decision that the store does not comply with the site’s zoning. The appeal, as filed by ADC Engineering, charges that the site plan meets the city’s zoning standards for the property near the intersection of Sea Island Parkway and Airport Circle. The engineering firm’s appeal was filed on behalf of Wal-Mart. So the case now goes to the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals. If Wal-Mart doesn’t accept their perspective, Wal-Mart could appeal to the Circuit Court.
According to the Beaufort Gazette, the property Wal-Mart wants is zoned to allow up to 250,000 s.f. of commercial space, and another 340,000 s.f. for light industrial or commercial activity. An agreement on the zoning for the property was supposed to terminate on Monday, but the City Council approved an extension earlier this month, which will keep the zoning intact until the council reaches a final decision. The city has not said when it will have a final vote on the extension. The Zoning Board of Appeals will hear the Wal-Mart appeal on March 25th. Readers are urged to call Beaufort Mayor Bill Rauch at (843)524-1234. Rauch used to be a press secretary for former New York Mayor Ed Koch. Rauch has been Mayor since 1999, and only moved to Beaufort in 1988. Tell Mayor Rauch: “Lady’s Island does not need another Wal-Mart superstore. The one on Robert Smalls Parkway is bad enough. You can’t try to woo tourists with talk of your landmark historic downtown, and then clog Route 21 up with traffic and 24/7 superstores. This store doesn’t fit into your Master Plan or your Open Space Plan. This is not a form of economic development, because you already have a Wal-Mart supercenter. Tell the Zoning Board of Appeals that you support the city’s planning director. Protect what’s unique about Lady’s Island, and stay away from typical roadsite sprawl. Tell the ZBOA to support the planning director’s decision.”