Estero, Florida is back into sprawl-busters news. Residents are not pleased with the prospect of 2 Wal-Mart supercenters within 4 miles of each other. A crowd of 100 frustrated residents crowded the Estero Design Review Committee’s meeting this week, prompting the Chairman to declare, “We are here to look at the site plan, the architecture and the landscaping of the property. You will have your opportunity to moan and groan about the project in your own community meetings with Wal-Mart.” One proposed store off of Route 41 will have to face onto Coconut Nut road, instead of the state road. This requires three new lanes of traffic to be added to the small city roadway, angering residents, who say the resulting traffic pattern will be dangerous and a public safety concern. Wal-Mart’s only defense of their site plan was that the store was “too large to face U.S. 41 and still have adequate parking in front of the building,” according to press accounts in the Bonita News. The engineering firm working for Wal-Mart told residents, “Wal-Mart wants to do what makes the community happy, within reason.” Residents responded angrily to Wal-Mart’s approach. “If you are going to be part of the community, and we hope you aren’t, we hope you’ll make some changes,” one resident said. “You would not want to live anywhere near this store,” another added. Wal-Mart is also trying to get approval for another superstore only four miles away, and some residents challenged the saturation of the trade area with supercenters. The Wal-Mart engineer replied, “Wal-Mart does not build stores to canabalize each other.” Wal-Mart plans to have a gas station on the lot, and a liquor store as part of a second phase of the plan. The Design Commission later ruled that Wal-Mart will have to seek rezoning for their plans. Lee County officials told the Naples News, “The county’s position is that the design and layout proposed is inconsistent with existing zoning.” The western part of the property is zoned for light industrial and does not allow for a big-box building or parking lot. But the rezoning process could now slow down Wal-Mart’s timetable considerably.
The engineer working for Wal-Mart who said the company does not cannibalize its own stores, is simply wrong. Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott has been quoted as saying “We’ve found that we can increase the number of supercenters by putting them closer together than we ever dreamed of. Rather than operate a lot of supercenters doing $120 million or $130 million or $140 million a year, we’d rather put another store nearby and operate two stores doing $80 million or $90 million each” to relieve some of the customer congestion. Hence, two supercenters in Estero only four miles apart. For more background on Estero, search by the city’s name in the Newsflash database.