September was a rough month in the small town of Gardnerville, Nevada. The submission of a 152,495 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter was compared to the dropping of a “Wal-bomb” by the local newspaper, the Record Courier. Gardnerville is located one hour south of Reno, and a short drive east from Lake Tahoe. The town’s elevation of 4,750 feet is almost higher than its population of less than 5,500. Located “in the heart of beautiful Carson Valley,” Gardnerville already is served by a Wal-Mart supercenter 12 miles away in Carson City. There is a second Wal-Mart 17 miles away in Carson City as well. So no one in Gardnerville has to go very far to find cheap Chinese underwear. Merchants in this small community clearly were stung by the news of the retailer’s plans. “Local business owners are still reeling,” said the Record Courier. “To many, news of the Wal-Mart seemed like a declaration of war on local business, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time. Up and down Main Street moms and pops are scraping to pay their overhead, to pay their bills and keep their doors open.” The owner of one local gift shop told the newspaper, “We’ve got empty retail outlets all over town. There are empty ones everywhere you look… yet we’re still building more retail space. It just doesn’t make sense.” Since the Wal-Mart proposal was submitted at the beginning of September, most of the outcry has been against the project. In the middle of the month, protesters gathered in front of the town office to protest the plan, and present hundreds of signatures against the superstore. This week, the Gardnerville Town board voted unanimously to continue the design review for the project, which sits on 20 acres of land that is zoned for commercial use. But the Town Board is only acting in an advisory capacity. The final decision rests in the hands of the Douglas County Commissioners.
Gardnerville’s Town Manager told the Courier that “many in the community are concerned how this will fit in terms of our rural small town character,” The parcel that Wal-Mart wants is part of the Virginia Ranch Specific Plan created in 2004, that included a huge 226-acre development with 1,000 residential units and plans for “village-like, pedestrian-themed commercial space” compatible with downtown Gardnerville. The Town Board must find that this project preserves the small town atmosphere of the town, and will not have a negative impact on neighbors. This means a huge superstore is incompatible with the design element created for the area. Even though the land is commercially zoned — it doesn’t meet the plan for this parcel. A store three times the size of a football field is not ‘village-like.’ To attempt to meet the design standards, Wal-Mart had its architect split up the monolithic appearance of the fa??ade into “different masses with varying roof lines and arches, metal canopies, tile insets, stone wainscoting and night-friendly decorative lighting.” The architect told the town, “I think we’ve done a good job reducing the scale.” But in fact, the footprint has not been reduced by one square foot. The residents of Gardnerville were not fooled. “The only kind of aesthetic question is what color of plywood to use when closing up shops downtown — because Wal-Mart will be killing this town,” one opponent told the Town Board. “This will be the nail in the coffin that buries Gardnerville,” another opponent bluntly stated. After the first hearing, Town board members indicated that they wanted more time to review the plan, and try to resolve concerns raised by neighboring property owners. But the developer, Sierra Nevada Southwest, insisted that the design was compatible with the zoning code.
At the protest in front of the Town offices, residents did not mince their words about Wal-Mart. “In today’s economic and political climate, I don’t think a big box store should come in here without being challenged,” one resident explained. “What few jobs might be provided will be at the expense of local business owners who lose jobs and have to cut back.” When Wal-Mart ran into problems at the first hearing, they requested the design review be postponed until Oct. 6th. This week, Wal-Mart’s engineering firm asked for another extension into November. The Douglas County Community Development office has likewise accommodated Wal-Mart by extending their deadline for a decision until November 10th. Opponents have produced their own report which shows that the superstore does not conform to the land’s Specific Plan. Readers are urged to email Paul Lindsay, the Chairman of the Town Board in Gardnerville at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Chairman Lindsay, I hope you will convey to the full Town Board my opposition to the proposed Wal-Mart supercenter. This project is completely incompatible with the design requirements of the Viriginia Ranch Specific Plan. Your town worked diligently to create that Specific Plan, and it should not be cast aside for some large retail corporation that wants you to believe a store three times the size of a football field is a ‘village-like’ project. You do not have the population to sustain this huge addition to your retail supply — especially with two superstores nearby in Carson City. As much as 80% of Wal-Mart’s sales will be transferred from existing merchants — and you have already heard loud and clear from local merchants that this will only worsen an already difficult retail environment. The Board has the right to recommend to the County that the massive scale of this project violates the Specific Plan. That’s all you need to say No to this project. Wal-Mart will huff and puff about it — but no court will overturn a decision made by local officials who are interpreting a Specific Plan they created. If Wal-Mart wants to build a 20,000 s.f. village store — more power to them. But no special deals for Wal-Mart.”