There won’t be a Wal-Mart supercenter in West Palm Beach, because the retailer couldn’t muster enough votes at the Palm Beach County Commissioners yesterday. The supercenter proposal to rezone 24 acres of vacant land — right across the street from an existing Wal-Mart — fell victim to a tie vote. One of the Commissioners, Jeff Koons, was absent, so the deadlock could not be broken. Local residents, however, did show up, and they warned the Commissioners that the proposed store would negatively affect their homes. Townhouses are being planned north of the proposed site. “This is clearly an inappropriate location for high commercial designation that will operate 24 hours a day,” one neighbor, whose home is northeast of the proposed site, told the Palm Beach Post. The county discussed the idea of buffering the huge store from nearby homes with landscaping — but there is no way to buffer such an intense land use. County planners and several commissioners suggested that instead of a new Wal-Mart site, the company should tear down their existing structure, and build the new store they wanted. County Planners admitted during the hearings that more retail wasn’t necessary in the neighborhood. “Why don’t they clean up the store they have?” one Commissioner suggested.
Why not indeed? If Wal-Mart had succeeded in this proposal, they would have left yet another “dark store” empty across the state, adding to the 356 dark stores — 28 million s.f. they already have on the market to lease or sell. The fact is, West Palm Beach is saturated with retail, and its own planners said more retail space was not needed. This is a rare glimpse of the truth, because most planners never put a limit on the amount of commercial square footage they are willing to force down neighbors’ throats. In this case, if Wal-Mart had received the rezoning, residents would have had a clear path to court, because rezoning is not a right for anybody, even wealthy corporations. For now, many residents are just as happy that the tide in Palm Beach has washed Wal-Mart out to sea. This is the second loss for Wal-Mart this week.