One person in a small Wisconsin Village has just changed the character of the entire community. If one person had changed his vote, Wal-Mart would not be able to expand an existing discount store into a supercenter. On January 26, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that the small community of Bellevue, Wisconsin had a big decision to make. This village of roughly 14,600 people just south of Green Bay, had a Wal-Mart supercenter thrown in its lap. The village, whose motto is “A Great Place To Grow,” had to decide if growth meant putting a Wal-Mart supercenter in its new business park. As it turned out less than four months later, that project would die. In February, 2008, local residents jammed into the Village board room to express their concern and dismay over the proposed Wal-Mart store. Every single resident who testified on the plan, opposed it. Some residents told Wal-Mart that instead of building a new superstore, they should go back and renovate their existing discount store on Main Street in Green Bay, which is roughly 3.5 miles from Bellevue. There are three Wal-Marts within 10 miles of Bellevue, Wisconsin, including two superstores in Green Bay and De Pere, Wisconsin. The Village Board held their meeting on February 13th, and voted unanimously to approve Wal-Mart’s planned development district — once again in the face of strong citizen opposition. Village President Craig Beyl abstained from the vote, because he works at a competing grocery store. One Village Trustee said the Wal-Mart decision had to be made on facts, not emotion. “We have to go by our ordinances, not on emotion,” said Trustee Jill Bielinksi. “Public opinion is not reason enough to deny this. (Wal-Mart has) done what we’ve asked for over and above.” And Trustee Dave Kaster was even more blunt: “To say we voted down Wal-Mart because Wal-Mart sucks, that works on the playground, but it doesn’t work here.” Three months after that statement, Wal-Mart decided that it would not work for them to locate in Bellevue. Perhaps the saturation of Wal-Marts in the area, and the relatively small population base, is what convinced Wal-Mart to scrap its Bellevue plans. According to the Green Bay Press Gazette, Wal-Mart announced in May of 2008 that it would not be coming to the village’s business park. The announcement was made by the village’s Adminstrator, Aaron Oppenheimer. “The door’s still open and they’re still interested, but they’ve been putting on hold about 1,500 projects across the country,” he said. “They’re just taking a pause in their building to see what the economic situation is going to be like.” The Bellevue project was supposed to open in 2010. Wal-Mart’s sudden freeze of this project left Bellevue in the middle of preparatory plans. According to the newspaper, the village was planning to build three roundabouts in the business park area to accommodate the added traffic Wal-Mart would have brought. State taxpayers were putting up $700,000 in funding to improve the roads leading to Wal-Mart. “Those (road) improvements will need to be made either way,” Oppenheimer rationalized. “So, that funding should stay available to us if Wal-Mart does give us the go-ahead, then we’ll go ahead with our improvements.” Into this unreality a little light came creeping. The Gazette quoted the village Administrator as being more sober about the future of this project. “I think any economic development project could be canceled, there’s always the possibility even if we didn’t have this pause,” he said. “Until you see that foundation going in, it could be canceled. But I think this is a prime location, and I think Wal-Mart is still very interested in it.” This week, the Green Bay Press Gazette reports that the village has approved instead a 40,000 s.f. addition to the existing Wal-Mart discount store at 2292 Main Street in Green Bay. By one vote, 3-1, the village board approved the expansion and redevelopment of Wal-Mart store #1908. Bellevue residents pleaded with the village board to deny the expansion, arguing that traffic at the existing store was already a concern. One neighbor complained about the store’s new rear entrance, which will bring more traffic into the neighborhood. “The village should not be trying to make it a convenience for Wal-Mart; this is for Bellevue people, like us,” she said. Village President Craig Beyl abstained again from voting, because he works at the competing grocery store Cub Foods. Beyl may find himself out of a job as a result of this vote to create a superstore.
Village President Craig Beyl told the Press-Gazette in January, 2008 that Wal-Mart was going to be a tough decision for his small community. It was not a tough decision for Wal-Mart to withdraw their huge, new superstore plan. But they eventually returned to Bellevue to expand their existing store. Bellevue gets no added value from this saturation of Wal-Mart supercenters. But because there already are two supercenters within ten miles of this location, the Bellevue proposal is a missile aimed directly at existing grocery stores, and other retailers, like Target, in the area. Open one, and close one. That’s the mantra at Wal-Mart. It is hard to see how adding another supercenter to this mix helps Bellevue or Wal-Mart shareholders. Readers are urged to email Village Trustee Kevin Brennan at: [email protected], with the following message: “Your village may be a great place to grow — but growing your Wal-Mart will not produce the economic results you want. All that expanding the existing Wal-Mart will do is hurt stores like Cub Foods. Craig Beyl is one of the first ones who should admit that. What Wal-Mart sells at a superstore, you already have at their two supercenters within 10 miles of this project. What you will get is higher crime, increased traffic, and other empty storefronts. You are putting your economic future in the hands of an out-of-state company that arrives with its bags already packed. One of the main goals of your zoning code is ‘to maintain the aesthetic appearances and scenic values of the Village; to prevent the overcrowding of land.’ This project will have a dramatic impact on the aesthetic character of your village. I urge you to consider putting a cap on the size of retail buildings, to prevent this kind of big box vote from ever happening again. Bellevue might also think about changing its names to Walvue.”