Wal-Mart loves to give trinkets to the natives when it comes to town looking for a permit. In one tiny Pennsylvania town, the natives wanted bluestones. And that’s what they got — sort of. On June 8, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had scouted a site for a superstore in Tunkhannock township, Pennsylvania, population 4,327 people. The township has had roughly the same population for nearly 20 years. Tunkhannock promotes itself as being located “within The Pocono Plateau, considered one of the world’s Top 40 ‘Last Great Places’ By The Nature Conservancy.” But Wal-Mart just sees this small town as a Great Place to build a superstore. But there’s a large problem: there’s a Wal-Mart discount store on State Road, Route 29 South in Tunkhannock just across the street from where the corporation wants to build its superstore. There’s also a Wal-Mart supercenter 17 miles away in Dickson City, and 22 miles away in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. According to the Scranton Times-Tribune, Wal-Mart submitted plans for a 153,000 s.f. superstore just across the street from the existing Wal-Mart store #2024. The project has been under review by the Wyoming County, Pennsylvania Planning Office. The Wyoming County Planning Commission reviewed the project at its June 18th meeting. Wal-Mart has a purchase agreement with the landowner, Select Sires of Ohio. A spokesman for the landowner said the land has not yet been sold. This is a return trip for Wal-Mart. The company was working on a 184,212 s.f. superstore plan for the same property back in 2006, but in the summer of that year, the retailer pulled its application from consideration by the Planning Commission. The county required Wal-Mart to show that it had agreements for certain easements that were needed for right-of-way. Two years later, the new plan does not need those easements, but part of the land does fall into the Bowmans Creek Watershed. Wal-Mart also is seeking approval for 2 small retail parcels in addition to its superstore plan. If the supercenter opens, the existing 75,000 s.f. Wal-Mart discount store will close down. This week, according to the Wyoming County Press Examiner, the Wyoming County Planning Commission gave Wal-Mart conditional preliminary approval for its leapfrog store. Technically, the store will be located in Eaton township. The vote was 5-0, with one commissioner abstaining, and one commissioner recusing himself. The commissioner who recused himself, also serves as a supervisor in Eaton township, which granted the store a conditional use permit last month. Wal-Mart now only needs to get approval from the county Conservation district, and the state’s Department of Transportation for a new traffic light. Wal-Mart has applied for a highway occupancy permit from PennDOT — but the state agency basically rubber stamps big box stores. During the hearing, the Planning Commission showed they were really attentive to the environmental, social and economic impacts of this project. One of the most probing questions asked by one commissioner who voted for the plan was: “Can you make the supercenter entirely of native bluestone?” The answer from Wal-Mart: No. But to show how seriously Wal-Mart took the Commission’s concern, the Wal-Mart representative added, “There will be native bluestone incorporated in the fa??ade.” Hearing that, the Commissioners gave Wal-Mart a unanimous vote.
Wal-Mart cosmetics: its what many planning boards turn to when they have no questions of any substance to ask. To Tunkhannock Planners, it seemed perfectly reasonable for Wal-Mart to abandon its 75,000 s.f. store (much larger than a football field) in this town of less than 4,500 people. The Planning Commission asked Wal-Mart politely if they would “promise” to fill their empty store with another business when the supercenter opens. Wal-Mart’s spokesman gave the ambiguous reply: “Well, I can tell you they don’t make money when it is empty.” But the reality is, the last thing Wal-Mart wants in its empty store is a competitor. When the Wal-Mart discount store in Tunkhannock is shut down, there will be three dead Wal-Marts in Pennsylvania. The two “dark stores” now on the market, one in Horsham, the other in Uniontown, are both over 100,000 s.f. This Tunkhannock project brings no added value economically to the local trade area, because Wal-Mart brings nothing new to the area. Most of its sales and jobs will be transferred from their store across the street. This is simply corporate musical chairs, not economic development. Readers are urged to email the Wyoming County Planning Commission Chairman Walter Derhammer, at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Chairman Derhammer, I’m disappointed that you blessed Wal-Mart’s plans for a huge supercenter across the street from its existing store. All the area will get out of this project is a dead store (which will not be easy to fill — see the dead stores in Uniontown and Horsham) and a larger Wal-Mart that will kill off some of your area grocery stores. This is not economic development, and it’s a prime example of the kind of roadside sprawl the county should be discouraging in the Pocono Plateau. The Nature Conservancy has protected more than 14,000 acres already in the Poconos Mountains — it makes little sense to squander any land for suburban sprawl. This building is three times the size of a football field — not even counting the parking lot. Now you should write a developer’s agreement that requires Wal-Mart to put up a demolition bond if their store is left empty for 12 consecutive months. You’ve allowed them to empty a store for very little reason. Now make sure that they don’t leave you holding that empty eyesore.”