In the heart of the south, where no unions tread, the battle against Wal-Mart continues to rage, underneath the radar of the major media, which has been preoccupied with another local story — the shootings at Virginia Tech. Yet the story of Blacksburg, Virginia, “the proud home of Virginia Tech,” located in the southwest part of the state, is typical of the battles that Sprawl-Busters has narrated for years in states like Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and elsewhere. For years, local citizens groups have taken up arms against the Arkansas corporation that has ripped up Dixie from one end to the other. Ironically, the General Sherman in this scorched-earth battle was a fellow southerner — Sam Walton. In Blacksburg, residents are fighting the so-called Gables Shopping Center, a South Main development, which includes a 187,000 s.f. retail footprint. The town council last year approved a rezoning that paved the way for a 40-acre project along South Main Street. Wal-Mart denies it is their store — but the size is a dead giveaway. At last week’s town council hearing, resident after resident stood to speak against the over-scaled plan. According to the Roanoke Times, residents have formed a group called Blacksburg United for Responsible Growth (BURG), and begun an emailing campaign and petition drive. The group is fighting the world’s largest retailer with a bake sale. Residents have also drafted a proposed zoning ordinance that would require big box retailers to seek town council approval before receiving a building permit. Blacksburg Councilman Don Langrehr proposed ordinance 1450, which would limit the size of retail buildings in town to 80,000 s.f. Larger buildings would require a special use permit issued by the town council. In April, the council voted to fast-track consideration of the ordinance and plans to vote on it May 29. Local officials worry, however, that the Wal-Mart proposal will be “grandfathered” against any ordinance passed now. The developer filed a lawsuit last week to avoid the proposed ordinance. Fairmount Properties of Ohio and developers Llamas LLC and Diversified Investors LLC filed suit in Montgomery County Circuit Court against the town, including its elected council and zoning administrator. Their lawsuit asks the court to protect the companies from “retroactive government interference.” The lawsuit requests that the court issue a writ of mandamus, which would force the town’s planning and engineering department to review final site plans for the Wal-Mart project before May 29. But under state law, Blacksburg has two months to review the site plan, and the town argues that this huge plan will need more time to analyse the complex impacts the development will produce. The developers argue that the town has only 15 days to review their plan. The town says it has 21 days just to respond to the lawsuit.
In his message to visitors, Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordam describes his community as “a unique town with possibilities that continue to be exceptional.” The town is “located in an area of great natural beauty, is also complemented by lively shopping, arts, entertainment, and superb recreation.” Men’s Journal named Blacksburg one of the 50 Best Places to Live; Blue Ridge Country Magazine called it one of 20 Top Retirement Towns; Outside Magazine called it a Top 10 Dream Town; and it has been rated one of the 50 Best Small Southern Towns. Blacksburg is Virginia’s largest Town with a population of over 41,000 over nearly 20 square miles. “Rich in history also, the town treasures several properties that are listed on the National Register of Historic Properties. The presence of the surrounding mountains continues Blacksburg’s identity as a refreshingly scenic town with an appropriate measure of rural countryside.” Now developers want to give this community an “appropriate measure” of asphalt and concrete” suburbanism and sprawl. Help the Mayor and town council stave off the destruction of Blacksburg. Call the Town Manager’s office and register your support for the town’s new ordinance 1450. You can reach Mark Verniel at: 540-961-1130, or send him an email at: [email protected]