Wal-Mart has announced that it is withdrawing its proposal to build a sixth supercenter in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The retailer’s proposal for the Soaring Eagles neighborhood in the southeast section of the city ran into a Wal of opposition, and the company decided to simply pull the proposal — after nearly a year of controversy with a citizen’s group — and look for another site in the city. According to The Gazette newspaper, city planners sided with the neighborhood, noting that a big box store was not compatible with 537 homes in the immediate area. A city ordinance adopted 8 years ago for this area says that the uses proposed must be consistent with the “concept plan” for the area, which called for hotels, office space, and restaurants. A big box store was not part of the concept plan. Planners had suggested to Wal-Mart that they cut the size of their single, stand-alone store down into a series of smaller buildings. But in the same breath that they announced a withdrawal, the company told the newspaper, “We feel this area is prime for an additional Wal-Mart. We look forward to continuing to work with (the community) to put together a project that works for everybody.” The victorious citizen’s group, the Soaring Eagles Community Coalition said that homeowners did not expect a superstore for a neighbor, and that the project would drag down property values because of its enormous size. “It shows what a community can do when they try to fight Wal-Mart,” one member of the Soaring Eagles Community Coalition said. The group vowed to fight Wal-Mart again if they try to shift to another nearby location “There are just too many places… where they can build and not impact homes and schools.” The Soaring Eagles neighborhood has other commercial property nearby that is empty, and two grocery stores recently closed, a sign of the over-saturation of retail in the area.
This story shows the importance of having a master plan, or concept plan for your community, that spells out exactly how every area of the city or town is supposed to be used. Many communities lack such plans, and as a result, homeowners who buy into an area, are often rudely surprised to learn that the large parcel slated for homes has been rezoned commercial, and a big box store is being permitted. Usually the rezoning goes unnoticed, because it was only referenced in a small legal ad in the newspaper. Residents are often mislead by developers who sell them a house, and then sell nearby land to a big box store. In this case, the neighbors won — albeit by the “skin of our teeth” — according to one Colorado Springs City Councilor, because the area had been designated for another type of land use. Wal-Mart will be back, probably sooner and closer than neighbors will want.