Wal-Mart officials have said repeatedly “we are not a green company.” But as sure as green is the color of money, Wal-Mart is a green company. On August 30, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart saw green in Sugar House, one of Salt Lake City, Utah’s oldest neighborhoods. The area is known for its distinctive local stores and small-town charm. Wal-Mart wants to build a 122,320 s.f. supercenter in the heart of Sugar House, but first it must tear down an empty Kmart it bought several years ago. The city’s zoning ordinance says the existing building can be remodeled — but not torn down. Wal-Mart has therefore asked for a rezoning of the property — and tried to sweeten the deal by offering a landscaping package, “green” features on the building, new sidewalks and other site amenities. “We plan to invest a significant amount of money and resources into the redevelopment of this site, eventually providing the community with a store that is appealing to the eye, technologically modern and environmentally progressive,” a Wal-Mart spokesman promised. But an advisory group to the council, known as the Sugar House Community Council, oppose the rezoning, claiming that a previous owner of the parcel on E. Parleys Way agreed to the current zoning rules in exchange for zoning flexibility on another piece of property. “I don’t care what the business is, whether it’s Wal-Mart or Kmart or Target or any other business. The thing I’m concerned about is that it stays with the current zoning, with the current types of businesses” in the area, a Sugar House Community Council spokesman said. But the vice-chairman of the Sugar House Council thinks Wal-Mart is a sweet deal. He told the Salt Lake Tribune that many people oppose the rezoning because they don’t like Wal-Mart. “I fear that they will use their hatred of Wal-Mart, because they don’t like Wal-Mart for Wal-Mart, and they will not judge it for what it will do for the community,” he said. Last February, members of the Sugar House Community Council met to discuss the rezoning for the 10-acre property from “community business” to “community shopping.” Only two people spoke in favor of the plan. Kmart, which has been at this location for 40 years, is shutting down. Wal-Mart bought the property in 2005, but less than a year later, the city voted to prohibit superstores in the ‘community business’ zone. The developer, CLC Associates, must seek the approval of the city’s Planning Commission and City Council. Part of the deal sweetening in Sugar House is a “planned development agreement” that the developer and the city sign requiring the retailer to adhere to its plans. Sugar House residents said current zoning was designed to keep businesses small and neighborhood-serving. “The problem with Wal-Mart is Wal-Mart is a regional store,” one member of the community council said. “Adding more traffic to these intersections that barely make it would be a disaster,” said a representative from the Foothill Development Watch citizen’s group. This week, ten months after presenting their proposal, Wal-Mart was in front of the Salt Lake City Planning Commission for an “issues only” session. 65 residents showed up to comment on the Wal-Mart plan. Many residents were skeptical of the retailer’s proposal. “Do they want to build green for the community or do they want the green for their pockets?” one neighbor asked. “The neighborhood does not need inferior products served at cut rates,” said another. “I know of no greater warts,” a third resident bluntly testified. “They’re going to do everything on the cheap because look at what they sell.” The Salt Lake Tribune described Wal-Mart as being represented by a “sprightly spokeswoman, combative project manager, traffic engineer and architect.” Wal-Mart insisted that the new building would have “lush landscaping and energy efficiency.” If they don’t get the rezoning, Wal-Mart warned, they would simply move into the existing Kmart store, which they described as a “40-year-old technology.” The Foothill Development Watch said it much preferred to see a pedestrian-friendly ‘live-work development’ on the site, with smaller shops, patios and views of the mountains. The Planning Commission had some pointed words for Wal-Mart as well. “They may want to think about flattening the hierarchy and listening to the members of the community,” one Commissioner stated.
Wal-Mart is not in business to listen to the community. Many Sugar House residents hate Wal-Mart precisely because of what it will do to the community. Sugar House, a very distinctive neighborhood in the larger city, is clearly not an appropriate place for a huge, suburban, single story building. The old Kmart was bad enough — and ironically that store was killed off by the same company that now wants to tear the store down. In 2004, Wal-Mart and Home Depot bought a bunch of Kmart properties. Home Depot has gotten into deep trouble trying to tear down Kmarts in the Los Angeles California neighborhood of Sunland-Tujunga, and in the Miami, Florida neighborhood of Coconut Grove. Miami residents forced Home Depot to reuse the existing Kmart building, and the Los Angeles City Council has not yet approved Home Depot’s plans to reuse the Kmart there. In Brattleboro, Vermont, Home Depot was forced to reuse an empty Kmart, and recently shut that store down because of lagging sales. The store now sits empty. In Salt Lake City, Wal-Mart has said, “If we are turned down on the rezone application, we certainly will operate out of the existing building. Unfortunately the existing building is a pretty aged building. Quite frankly, we would like to make a building that not only meets the needs of shoppers, but is visually appealing as well.” The company told the city that if they are forced to go into the existing Kmart building, they will not spend money on landscaping or the parking lot. That’s about as close as you’ll get to a corporate tantrum. Readers should contact the Salt Lake City Council by calling their comment line at (801) 535-7654, or drop them an email at: [email protected] Tell them: “Los Angeles, Miami and Brattleboro, Vermont all refused to let their empty Kmart buildings be torn down. Don’t rezone the Kmart property for Wal-Mart. No special deals. If they want it so badly, make them move in and reuse it. There are more than 4,000 Wal-Mart stores in America today — but only one Sugar House. Which would you rather protect? The closure of the Kmart gives Salt Lake City an opportunity to reinvent the site for something other than suburban sprawl. That’s why the land was rezoned. Changing that zoning would harm the residents who live nearby. Let Wal-Mart give the community what they want, not what someone in Arkansas thinks is best for them.”