Wal-Mart is like a cheap pair of underwear. They keep creeping up on you. The Economic Development Director for Lancaster, Ohio says he’s been working on bringing a Wal-Mart supercenter to this town for years — but local residents never knew about it. According to NBC Channel 4, “A Wal-Mart is coming to Lancaster, and will be located on Ety Road, just west of U.S. Route 33. ‘We’ve been working on this for about three years,’ said Lancaster Economic Development Director Mike Pettit. ‘It’s around 350 jobs.’ The store is expected to bring in hundreds of jobs to the area, but traffic may pose a problem for the area.” Lancaster Mayor Dave Smith was part of the deal. He told Channel 4 that the project includes an agreement to upgrade the road, put in probably five lanes of traffic, and “some additional traffic lights.” This terrible piece of reporting leaves out key info: Wal-Mart will not mean 350 new jobs, since most of the retailer’s jobs will come from existing jobs displaced elsewhere in Lancaster. Second, Wal-Mart needs to go through a public review process, and the story says nothing about the fact that citizens will have their say on the project. Here’s a report Sprawl-Busters received this week from one local resident: “I live in a small city 20 miles SE of Columbus Ohio. I recently found out on the evening news that our local officials are bringing in Wal-Mart. This came as a shock to many of us. We had previously been told of the retail development area that a home improvement store was coming in — not one word on Wal-Mart. Many times before our small businesses have tried to keep out Wal-Mart. I feel that Wal-Mart would only have a terrible impact on our community. I feel it is suspicious that the Wal-Mart is going near low income housing(where I live) and a trailer park. I feel that our local government has no concerns for our residents like myself just trying to raise our families in a safe environment. This land is one of our oldest family farms, and they have now sold out to a developer who builds Wal-Marts. We have 3 neighboring towns that have Wally-worlds and we do NOT need one here! We have the Anchor Hocking Glass Corp. which is a huge supplier to Wal-Mart – in fact Wal-Mart is it’s largest client — so I don’t know if we can rely on their typically staunch Union support against anti-Union foes like Wal-Mart. Is it typical of Wal-Mart to not announce their coming until the developer had infiltrated the area?”
This is very typical of how Wal-Mart and other big box retailers approach a town. They say that it is impossible for them to announce their interest in a piece of property until they have it under contract, because of the competitive nature of land acquisition. But in the case of Lancaster, the question to ask is: How could the town be spending tax dollars for three years to have its Economic Development Director working on a “secret” project that the residents don’t know about, and are upset to hear about on a news show? This is not how development should be done, or has to be done. More transparency in the process would avoid this confrontational “surprise” strategy on the part of town officials. The conversion of farmland for a big box store is bad enough, but to “spring” it on residents after three years of work, is pathetic. After all, taxpayers are underwriting the costs of town staff working on this project, which many residents in town may not support. The impact on nearby residential housing should have been discussed before the project ever got to the publicity stage. And is the Mayor saying that Wal-Mart is going to pay for the road improvements needed to bring customers to their door — or are local and state taxpayers going to pick up the bill for the world’s richest retailer? Officials in Lancaster have a lot of explaining to do.