Three days ago, Wal-Mart’s proposal to build a 165,000 s.f. store on 53-acres in Lima, New York suddenly imploded. The retailer issued a 41 word press release announcing it was withdrawing from the site. A town official told the local media he suspected that “community controversy” was a key factor in Wal-Mart’s departure. Sprawl-Busters received today the following frontline report from the leaders of the opposition to this project: “When residents of Lima, NY first heard rumors of a proposed “big box” development, slated to be built on farmland not zoned for commercial use, they organized quickly to preserve the character of their small town. Studying the town’s nearly final draft comprehensive plan, initial organizers ascertained that town residents’ input to the plan process favored development: scaled to suit the community’s existing small businesses; that residents were concerned about traffic congestion developing as a result of unplanned development;.and that the feature that they value most about the community was its rural / small town character. Organizers quickly held an open meeting and invited interested residents to learn more about the rumored development and the associated impacts of such development. Within days, the group established an identity, Lima Citizens for Responsible Development, and drafted a petition which called upon the town board to deny rezoning of the farm parcel in question for commercial use and to enact a temporary development moratorium on big box development to allow time for the adoption and implementation of a comprehensive plan. Such action, taken by the town board would allow the community to realize its vision for its future and would eliminate the risk that this vision would be permanently compromised to satisfy the wishes of an out-of-town developer. LCFRD set up informational booths at local stores where volunteers began to gather signatures on the petition and inform the community of the threat of big box development. This work was a critical beginning to the group’s ultimate success. Within a few weeks, hundreds of signatures had been gathered and members of the community were mobilized. As the weeks went by, standing-room-only attendance at town meetings brought media attention to the battle and eventually, Wal-Mart came out from the cover of secrecy and disclosed their identity and building plans. As plans became public, LCFRD pursued an active campaign to lobby public officials to act responsibly and implement the town’s plan for its future before reviewing a development request from Wal-Mart. From the beginning to the successful end of this campaign, LCFRD volunteers worked over-time to inform the community of the negative impacts associated with big box type development and of their rights, as citizens, to have input to the decisions that their elected representatives would make on matters related to both Wal-Mart’s application and to their own vision for Lima’s future, as defined in the town’s draft comprehensive plan. To maintain visibility for the campaign, LCFRD developed a logo and slogan “Never In Lima”. Lawn signs, lapel pins, t-shirts, and car window signs kept the message in front of the public every day and the signs were a big hit with broadcast and print media. To keep people informed, LCFRD conducted town-wide mailings, developed an e-mail list of supporters and, with the help of a local business and an incredible volunteer, established an outstanding website, neverinlima.org. To build involvement and momentum, LCFRD maintained high levels of face-to-face public contact with informational booths and community information meetings held casually at a town park. To demonstrate widespread community concern, LCFRD continued gathering signatures on a petition of opposition throughout the campaign… over six months, 1,020 residents representing 1/3 of the town’s adult population signed on. Residents were asked to attend public meetings and write letters to the town board and local newspapers and they responded in a big way… and kept it up. Despite all of these efforts and overwhelming community outcry, 3 out of 5 town board members refused to defer to common sense requests to complete the town’s work, its comprehensive plan, before embarking on a review of Wal-Mart’s application. In “private informational meetings” held with the town supervisor and deputy town supervisor early on, Wal-Mart’s representatives, acting on behalf of an undisclosed “mystery client,” sold a story of increased taxes and jobs. They knew the hot buttons to push and those unsubstantiated claims, made without any accounting of offsetting costs and revenue/job losses, sent 3 out of 5 town board members off on a fast-paced quest to reel those alleged benefits in. Work on the town’s comprehensive plan was abandoned temporarily when 3 town board members moved to “disband” the comprehensive plan committee — a group of dedicated volunteers who had worked for several years to complete this work. This unprecedented action was taken at an unusually scheduled morning meeting of the board. None of this served to deter the LCFRD volunteers working to ensure a vibrant future for their community. Remaining focused on their community’s expressed goals for its future, staying vigilant with numerous on-going publicity efforts and bringing out record numbers of attendees at every town board meeting, even during summer months, LCFRD raised every possible legitimate objection to the project. On September 14, 2006, Wal-Mart issued the following press release: “Wal-Mart today announced it will withdraw its application for a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on Route 15A in Lima, NY. Wal-Mart will continue to consider other opportunities for potential sites in order to better serve its customers located in and around Lima.”
“Lima residents may never know why Wal-Mart withdrew its application but it appears likely that Wal-Mart came to realize what some of Lima’s elected officials did not – that the site they sought was not appropriate for their intended purpose and that the scale of development that they proposed was not compatible with the community’s expressed wishes for its future. There is no question that the intense campaign of information sharing, communication, media contact and respectful, honest work on behalf of our community made a difference. Today we are celebrating the exit of an unwanted sprawl-inducing big box from our community. We also met to continue our work. We will not relent until our community has an adopted comprehensive plan. Furthermore, we will seek endorsement from our town officials to work toward an economic development plan that fosters growth of a type that will enhance and not detract from our small town. We learned a lesson from this close call: Do not wait until your community is confronted with an application from an unwanted type of development. Act today to review your community’s comprehensive plan and zoning regulations to make sure that they are consistent with your community’s vision for its future. For more information on our activities and successful outcome, please visit our website, neverinlima.org. We will be glad to talk with anyone who would like to learn from our experience.” When Wal-Mart comes to a local community, it usually scouts out at least two or three potential sites, and goes with the preferred site first. So Lima’s battle will not end until they rule out huge superstores as a land use.