Do good berms make good neighbors? More than 100 angry residents in Estero, Florida gave Wal-Mart officals an earful for more than 2 hours on June 9th, as Wal-Mart unveiled plans for a 228,000 s.f. supercenter in this small community at a neighborhood meeting. According to the Naples Daily News, only one person at the public meeting voiced support for Wal-Mart. Everyone else raised issues about traffic, crime, and impact on property values. The store would be located on Route 41. Because of the significant amount of nearby residential property, Wal-Mart representatives said they would provide increased landscaping for the project, and give the store a “Mediterranean design” to blend in better with existing buildings. The company also said it would pay for a private access road for residents. Echoing comments made by Wal-Mart’s CEO recently at the company’s Annual Stockholder’s meeting, the local engineer pitching the project told residents: “Wal-Mart is an active community member. It acts as a good neighbor.” But many residents didn’t like the sound of a 4-foot earth and berm mound, plus a 6-foot high screening wall. Wal-Mart also offered to put their huge store 240 feet away from residential property, even though the town’s zoning code would have allowed them to move within 25 feet of residential property lines. To the north of the proposed site is a housing development called The Vines. Wal-Mart promised these residents that the company would pick up the one-time cost of a gated access road. However, the on-going maintenance costs for the road would fall to homeowners. One resident of The Vines was quoted as saying: “Do you think that is fair, that we should have to pay to get into our property?” The next stop for Wal-Mart is a July 15th. meeting before the Estero Community Planning Panel. The plan has to get approval from the Lee County Commissioners.
How can a project that requires 4 foot berms and 6 foot walls be a good neighbor? It should be an obvious tip off that the project is clearly incompatible in a predominately residential area. After all, nobody has to berm open space. In this case, the noise, air, and light pollution cannot really be mitigated, and the impact on the values of upscale homes could be significant. The Estero store is pretty much the largest prototype Wal-Mart builds, and neighbors are justifiably concerned that this intensity of land use will change forever the character of their neighborhood — even if the building is given a mediterranean facade.