Wal-Mart likes to have its supercenters open “always”, but 24 hour retail giants are the worst neighbor one can imagine. In West Des Moines, all they had to do to was to talk to neighbors of the 24 hour supercenter in nearby Windsor Heights. “They wake me up at 4 am because I live on the second floor,” one woman told the local newspaper. “The privacy fence doesn’t work. Garbage Dumpsters get dumped at 4, semis stop by a 4 and honk all night. Guys are always in the back partying and grilling out, and I’ve gone back there several times yelling at them.” Other neighbors complained of problems with noise and debris blowing in from the superstore behind them. With such testimonials, it is not surprising that the West Des Moines City Council voted recently to restrict the hours of operation for a Wal-Mart that is slated to be built in the area. The council originally said it would allow Wal-Mart to operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. But under pressure from Wal-Mart, the council then voted 3-2 to expand the store’s hours from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m, and to allow the store to remain open 24 hours a day from November 1 to January 7th, the holiday shopping season. As part of its ‘good neighbor’ policy, Wal-Mart responded to the City Council’s vote by filing a lawsuit asked that the court void a site plan restricting store hours. City leaders said they didn’t know about the lawsuit and aren’t pleased, but also aren’t surprised. “Frustrated. We’re trying to do some neat things out there,” said West Des Moines City Council member Brad Olson. “It appears that the conversations we (had) with those involved (were) just lip service. We’ll let the courts decide. We feel comfortable in our position.” One neighbor who will be only 200 feet from the store, told the Des Moines Register, “Oh, I wish it would go away, but unfortunately I’m here and Wal-Mart is coming. We’ll hear all this stuff, the lights will be on, the traffic will be there. We’re gonna have noise pollution, light pollution. I don’t think a 24-hour store works with residential adjacent to it.” According to the Des Moines Register’s Web site, a spokesperson for Wal-Mart said the lawsuit is “non-adversarial.” Wal-Mart would be fine with the 6 a.m. to midnight hours, but objected to the original 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. restriction.
This West Des Moines case is a failure in planning. No neighbors should have to put up with a project whose size totally compromises their daily enjoyment of their home and property. The idea that retail has to dominate people’s lives and ruin the value of their home, and disrupt their lives, is just not acceptable. Large big box retail projects are simply not compatible in the middle of residential neighborhoods, especially when homes are 200 feet away. Sprawl-Busters has written about the consequences of such decisions in the book “The Case Against Wal-Mart”, which officials in West Des Moines should use in their court case, to show the adverse impacts of 24 hour operations on nearby properties. The store should not be build at that size, in that location. The City Council has betrayed the homeowners in their community by forcing a terrible land use decision down their throats. Even with limited hours of operation, the residents in that community should ask the City Council to buy a home in their neighborhood to live with the consequences of their land use decisions. A cap on the size of retail stores would have protected West Des Moines homeowners. Or, requiring commercial projects over 40,000 s.f. to be located no closer than 2,500 feet from residential land would also have solved the problem.