On October 22, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was pushing for a zoning change in Greenville, North Carolina. The city of Greenville has a population of just over 76,000 people — certainly enough to satisfy one Wal-Mart superstore. The city already has a supercenter on Greenville Boulevard. Greenville is located on 35 square miles in the north central coastal plain region of Eastern North Carolina, approximately 85 miles east of Raleigh. The city says it is committed to “insuring a community of distinction for the future.” Apparently, being saturated with Wal-Marts is considered a “distinction” in Greenville. In late October, 2008, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission agreed to a land-use change that would have paved the way for another Wal-Mart Supercenter, this one at 10th Street and Port Terminal Road. A developer, WRS, was lobbying local officials hard for their retail extravaganza called the “Port Terminal Commons.” Wal-Mart was the main anchor for the complex, which would have been located across the road from a Lowe’s big box store. The only problem was: the land Wal-Mart wanted was not designated for retail use. Neighbors expected the land to be used for office/institutional/multi-family, medium density residential use, and for conservation/open space. The city’s own planning staff recommended against the change. “It’s not that there shouldn’t be any development,” said Chantae Gooby, the city’s planner. “It’s just a matter of scale.” A resident’s group, the River Hills Neighborhood, formed to fight the superstore. The developer claimed its project would result in 750 jobs for Greenville, and that noise and visual buffers would be built between the development and River Hills to lessen the impacts on residential properties. On November 6, 2008, the City Council shut down Wal-Mart’s plans, by voting 4-2 to reject an amendment to the city’s land-use plan. The Terminal Road process was terminated — in large measure due to activism from local residents. Sprawl-Busters reported at that time that a Wal-Mart representative said the retailer still wants to open a second store in Greenville. “Wal-Mart would love to open a new store in Greenville,” the spokesperson said. “We believe Wal-Mart would be a wonderful catalyst for the local economy by providing new jobs and opportunities for the citizens of Greenville.” A spokesman for WRS said, “I’m not so much frustrated as I am disappointed that our project is not going to be allowed to be developed in a manner that would be a wonderful gateway project for Greenville. What I believe you will have now is piecemeal development instead of architecturally unified development… I am sorry we weren’t really able to tell the story of the pluses and positives of this project. I am sorry that didn’t come across.” This week — roughly one year from their defeat — Wal-Mart is back in Greenville with another location, once again on land that is not properly zoned. On November 9, 2009, the City Council voted 5-1 to rezone 29 acres of land in East Greenville on Highway 33 at a site called the Porter Town road for a regional big box center. WRS is once again the developer — but this time the company is playing coy on who the giant retailer will be. Once again, the developer is making the exaggerated claim that this mall will bring 700 jobs to the area — not counting the existing jobs that will disappear when the Wal-Mart opens. Once again, there were residents at the hearing, raising objections to the crime, traffic and drainage problems that the new store will bring. By rezoning the land commercial, the city will allow huge commercial development to harm the value of the residential homes that will look out on the property. According to one local radio station, the two hour hearing “turned into an emotional evening.” Residents tried to gain more time to organize, but a motion to study the rezoning further did not pass. The developer now has to submit a business plan to the city for this Porter Town Road site.
When the first Wal-Mart superstore was defeated, the members of the City Council who represented affected homeowners near this project said they could not support the Wal-Mart rezoning. Council members Larry Spell, Calvin Mercer, Mildred Council and Bryant Kittrell voted to deny the plan last year. Many of the people who showed up to oppose the plan were from the River Hills housing subdivision, who are represented by Councilor Larry Spell. He was clearly influenced by the strong opposition to this project by his constituents. “It’s a great plan,” he told the developer, “but absolutely the wrong place. This is a major change to the (land-use) plan. This is not a tweaking.” That sentiment was echoed by Council member Calvin Mercer, who also represents a residential neighborhood near the project. “What a slap in the face, less than a year after bringing (River Hills subdivision) into the city that we go and do this to their neighborhood.” Mercer said rejecting Wal-Mart “was not a close call,” because it violated the comprehensive land-use plan and went against the recommendation of City planning staff. “I have heard nothing close to a good reason for changing this plan,” Mercer admitted that “vigorous citizen opposition” had influenced his decision. One Councilor, Max Joyner, told neighbors the Wal-Mart plan was “a beautiful plan,” and added: “If you don’t want change, move out of Greenville or buy up all the land around you.” But in the end, it was Wal-Mart that had to move. The president of the River Hills Neighborhood Association reminded elected officials in 2008: “This area was never intended for this level of commercial activity. There are other parcels the city’s planning department has recommended to WRS. We are going to continue as a neighborhood, not just as a neighborhood, but a city, to stick together so we can make our own decisions about growth so we can protect our neighborhoods.” Now that statement is being tested — because another neighborhood in Greenville is being attacked. Ironically, the River Hills defeat of Wal-Mart last year has turned into a major headache for another neighborhood in the city. Readers are urged to email Greenville Mayor Pat Dunn at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Dunn, Last year at this time, the City Council rejected a rezoning for a Wal-Mart supercenter in District 3. Now Wal-Mart is back with the same plan, and the same need to rezoning land that is not properly zoned for commercial. The neighbors who bought their homes in good faith that this parcel of land was not commercially zoned, will now find themselves living next to a huge big box mall — and their property values will plummet. This is not good land use zoning. The City Council has a goal in its 2009 Plan to create “substainability and liveability” in its current neighborhoods. This is not the way to go about it — by radically changing your zoning to meet the needs of a developer and a retailer. As Councilor Mercer said last year over the District 3 Wal-Mart battle, “This is a slap in the face” this time to the Porter Town neighborhood. When this project comes in with its business plan, don’t allow any buildings that are not compatible in scale to the surrounding residential homes. You can have small scale retail that does not overwhelm the area with traffic and crime. You already have a Wal-Mart supercenter in Greenville, and adding another one will bring little or no added value economically, because most of its sales will come from the existing supercenter and local merchants. The Council was not required to give any developer a zone change, and must always weigh the welfare and safety of surrounding land uses in the process. Now that the Council has made a huge mistake — it’s time to start supporting your homeowners by insisting on buildings no larger than 40,000 s.f. Give the neighbors a much smaller project that they can live with.”