Sprawl-Busters received the following plea for help this week from residents in Waxhaw, North Carolina: “The area where we live is one of the fastest growing areas in the country and my feeling is that the tip of the no Wal-Mart arrow needs to be peppered with “sprawl impact data”. This is a sleepy horse farm kind of town and I seriously doubt that these officials are capable of conducting any serious in-depth impact study that looks across all of the commercial and residential development that is underway or that is about to commence.” According to the Charlotte Observer, Wal-Mart submitted plans to build a 176,000 s.f. supercenter. The proposal came to the town’s Planning Commission this week. There are already two Wal-Marts within 12 miles of Waxhaw. Local residents say the superstore will increase crime, change the small town character of the community, and force other businesses to close. They also note that the store site is located near a two-lane bridge. “What do we do with the empty buildings if these places do go out of business?” one resident asked. A group called Waxhaw Action has attracted more than 600 signatures as of today to their petition: “We the Undersigned are opposed to a Wal-Mart Supercenter at Jackson Station in Waxhaw. Any such store would be inappropriate for the location and would harm Waxhaw’s many small businesses and quality of life. As more and more neighboring small towns fall prey to sprawl and unbridled growth, Waxhaw needs to preserve it’s unique character and nurture the “Main Street” businesses that contribute to Waxhaw’s appealing rural village personality and unique character.” Wal-Mart responded by saying its negative impact on businesses is only “rhetoric,” and that the store has harmed grocery stores, but other businesses thrive near them. Town officials have asked Wal-Mart to meet only two demands: trees in the parking lot, and a shopping cart return area close to the store. But when the proposal came to the Planning Board this week, the board tabled action on the plan, saying Wal-Mart’s proposal was incomplete and left unanswered many questions. That means Wal-Mart has to come back September 18th with more answers. Some of the issues raised by the Planning Board, like the use of more brick on the fa??ade, is easy for Wal-Mart to handle. But the validity of Wal-Mart’s self-serving traffic study may be much harder to resolve. One Planning Board member asked why Wal-Mart picked a two lane road that runs through the downtown, and already has rush hour problems? “We go where the rooftops are and where the developments are,” Wal-Mart said, not responding to the question.
Many Wal-Mart stores have been rejected on traffic impacts alone. One of the great flaws of the land use review process generally is the over-reliance on studies produced by developers to justify there own proposals. Waxhaw officials would do well to insist that Wal-Mart underwrite the cost of an independent traffic impact study, with the town choosing a traffic engineer from outside the area that has not done business with Wal-Mart. One thing is certain: the town will never get a straight answer from Wal-Mart on the issue of traffic impact. For local contacts in Waxhaw, contact [email protected]