Vernon Hills, Illinois, a community of roughly 24,500 people, already has a Wal-Mart discount store on Townline Road. There are 19 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Vernon Hills, one of which is a supercenter in Waukegan, Illinois just ten miles away. On June 5, 2007, President of the Trustees, Roger Byrne, announced that Bradford Realty planned to petition the Village of Vernon Hills to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter on a vacant lot north of Gregg’s Parkway at Milwaukee Avenue, on land formerly owned by printing magnate John Cuneo Sr. The President outlined the six step process for reviewing this proposal on the village’s website, beginning with a community information meeting coordinated by the Village staff in cooperation with the Gregg’s Landing Homeowners’ Association. “The purpose of this forum will be to present the concept plans for the project and provide residents their first opportunity to comment, and ask questions of the developer, Bradford, and Wal-Mart.” From the outset, the Wal-Mart proposal triggered an outpouring of vocal opposition. A citizen’s group launched a website against the project. The group explained: “As residents of Gregg’s Landing and other neighborhoods in Vernon Hills, Libertyville, and Mundelein we respectfully say “No, Thank you.” Wal-Mart has been an asset to our community and has contributed greatly. They have donated thousands of dollars to our local schools, civic groups and charities. While we are very appreciative of these efforts we do not believe building a Supercenter at that location is in anyone’s best interest. We urge Wal-Mart to expand at their current site rather than construct a new facility. We have several specific concerns which cannot be remedied. These concerns include: dangerous traffic and safety issues, potential environmental hazards, decreased property values, excessive noise, and more.” The Village Board is where the bucks stops. The President and Village Board receive the Planning & Zoning Commission recommendations, and the Board can approve the project, modify it, or reject it. Its now almost one year since this proposal was first floated, and citizens against the project are hoping that the superstore will never land in Gregg’s Landing. According to the Chicago Tribune, Wal-Mart’s supercenter plan has stalled, but residents are not convinced the project is dead. Gregg’s Landing is an upscale residential community that is already reeling from the construction of a 170,000 s.f. Lowe’s home improvement center, which is slated to open soon. The Lowe’s is part of a retail complex called “The Shoppes of Gregg’s Landing,” which, despite its pretentious name, has a Staples office supply store, a Starbucks, a Panda Express restaurant, and a bank. But the 50 acres of open land that could become a Wal-Mart is what had neighbors up in arms. “It’s not the best use, in our opinion, of that property,” the president of Gregg’s Landing North Homeowners Association told the Chicago Tribune. “There are significant traffic issues and noise issues.” Instead of developing a new site, the homeowner’s group wants Wal-Mart to expand its existing store on Townline Road. Wal-Mart has not officially admitted that the Gregg’s Landing site is off the table, but a village official told the newspaper, “We haven’t gotten an official thumbs-down from them. From what we understand, he’s not pursuing it. They’re looking at other options in the community.” The Gregg’s Landing development itself is quite large, spreading over 1,000 acres of land. Homes there can start as high as $1 million, and not all the lots are yet filled. Gregg’s Landing residents want something more upscale, a pedestrian-friendly outdoor mall, that would be a more compatible neighbor to a high-end housing development. “We’re looking at something with lower traffic counts — and things residents could walk to, such as restaurants, grocery stores, ice cream stores,” said the president of the Oakmont subdivision in Gregg’s Landing. Lowe’s ruffled plenty of feathers when it was proposed, and local homeowners are now working with the store to create a “naturally landscaped berm” between the store and their houses. But there is no way to buffer a store that large. Neither Wal-Mart, nor its real estate agent have been heard from in months. The commercial property on the Cuneo estate that has yet to be developed, may be caught in the latest real estate downturn. “There’s interest, but everybody is very cautious right now about what they’re thinking and proposing,” a village official told The Tribune.
Neighboring homeowners began a website to oppose the superstore. Their website can be found at: www.stopgreggswalmart. The homeowners have lost the first important battle to Lowe’s, which is every bit as objectionable as a Wal-Mart supercenter, in terms of its impact on nearby housing values, traffic, and character of the village. But Lowe’s is set to open, so the focus now is on stopping the Wal-Mart. The Vernon Hills superstore appears to be offtrack, but Wal-Mart is not commenting. The last update posted by President Byrne was on July 20, 2007. It read: “We have not received any formal application or plans from the developer or Wal-Mart. We continue to wait for submission of the prospective dates for a Community Meeting. The conceptual site plan and building elevation have been posted on our website. These concept plans are for illustrative purposes only and have not been formally reviewed by the Village Board or Staff. It is not unusual for plans at this early stage to change three or four times before they are reviewed by the President and Village Board.” Readers are urged to email President Roger Byrne at: [email protected] with the following message: “President Byrne, allowing Lowe’s to open up at 170,000 s.f. was bad enough — but adding to the damage by permitting an even bigger Wal-Mart — that would be compounding the problems for your village. Big Box stores are just not a compatible land use with Gregg’s Landing. Wal-Mart superstores are not a good neighbor to residential property, especially expensive homes. There are many zoning changes that Vernon Hills could make to limit the size of and scope of retail projects, so they have more of a village feel. Given the fact that Wal-Mart has not formally submitted its plans, if you passed a cap on the size of retail stores of 60,000 s.f., Wal-Mart would have to choose to either fit into Vernon Hills, or find somewhere else to sprawl. This project will clearly hurt the value of homes purchased by your constituents at Gregg’s Landing. I urge you not to approve land uses that end up as a win/lose proposition. The homeowners at Gregg’s Landing should be protected from inharmonious projects. Use Wal-Mart’s withdrawal to tighten up your zoning code so large scale projects like Lowe’s and Wal-Mart never happen again. Wal-Mart will bring no added value economically to your village. Your village model is “People planning with pride.” Wal-Mart’s inactive proposal gives you a chance to do some “planning with pride” that people in Gregg’s Landing can feel good about.