Tom Winkopp owns a 34 acre piece of property that Wal-Mart was eyeing for a 204,000 s.f. supercenter in Clemson, South Carolina. So when Winkopp told the Greenville News last week that the proposed supercenter was a “dead issue”, you would think that residents could rest easier. After all, Winkopp was responding to a very clear 5-1 decision to oppose the rezoning of land in the city from residential to commercial. The parcel Wal-Mart wants is mostly in unzoned county land, but a small strip of property lies within the city. After the Clemson Planning Commission recommended against rezoning, Winkopp announced that his plans “just got squelched”. Yet two days earlier, he told the same newspaper that if the rezoning attempt failed, the store would be built anyway. “It’s one of those things,” the landowner said, “where it’s going to be built regardless, so hopefully the city will be able to accept this, bring it in and control it and gain the economic benefit from it.” Winkopp’s plan was that the city land would be rezoned, and the remainder of the parcel would be annexed by Clemson from the county. Winkopp knows the final decision on the plan is in the hands of the City Council, which can reverse the recommendation of its Planning Commission. The chairman of the Commission told the Anderson Independent Mail newspaper: “My opinion is that the planned commercial usage is so overwhelming, beyond the scope of the comprehensive plan, that it’s not what’s best for that site.” Residents pointed out that the city’s comprehensive plan boasts of the community’s “village atmosphere”, and says that “strip commercial development will no longer be an acceptable development option”. The city’s land use goals include “placing a high priority on neighborhood preservation” and “encourage development with a scale and architectural design compatible with the city’s vision.”
It’s really not Clemson’s fault that Wal-Mart has apparent reading comprehension problems. The company either doesn’t read Comprehensive Plans, or simply elects to ignore them. But city residents have every right to remind Clemson officials that rezoning land is a discretionary act, not a mandate. Wal-Mart has not right to have land rezoned just to increase their market share. Citizens in Clemson are right to be wary of any statement that Wal-Mart has been squelched — because it ain’t over till the fat company sings. What Clemson needs to do now is amend its zoning code to limit the gross leasable area of any future retail building permits to no greater than 15% of the average GLA of retail permits issued in the city over the past 5 years. Then they can rest assured that big box encroachment will be “squelched”.