In January 2005, a 142,000 s.f. Wal-Mart store opened in the Vornado Shopping Center on Route 30 in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Wal-Mart moved into the center near a Toys R Us and an Office Depot. According to township officials in Cherry Hill, the township negotiated with Wal-Mart over how the building’s exterior would look. The Wal-Mart in Cherry Hill “features a partially-brick-faced fa??ade with classic architectural features that differentiate the Cherry Hill Wal-Mart from other stores in the chain.” According to the township’s website, “The site also includes increased open space. Cherry Hill officials also met with the Wal-Mart developers and the neighbors to address their needs and concerns. In conjunction with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Camden County Soil Conservation District, the Township worked to make improvements to drainage and water filtration methods at the Wal-Mart site.” Now, just 4 years later, the neighbors in Cherry Hill are likely to be concerned again. According to the Cherry Hill Courier Post, Wal-Mart is considering expanding its discount store on Route 30. A spokesman for Wal-Mart told the newspaper the company was reviewing “a number of its stores in New Jersey to determine whether expansions are . . . appropriate.” As of last August, Wal-Mart had only 2 supercenters in New Jersey, and 47 discount stores. It is the company’s intention, as elsewhere, to reverse those numbers — and either expand those 47 discount stores into supercenters, or build larger superstores nearby and shut down any discount store that cannot be increased in size. No application has been filed yet with the township. The property is owned by the Vornado Realty Trust. This is the same company that owns a Wal-Mart property in Valley Stream, New York where a worker was trampled to death last December. Vornado is also the developer that ran into a brick Wal in Queens, New York when it tried to locate a Wal-Mart there. Vornado has also stirred up controversy in Paramus, New Jersey, where it tried to pay neighbors money in return for support of a big box mall. Officials in Cherry Hill may have no inkling of Vornado’s history of public relations problems. The township admits that community development staff have met with Vornado to talk about expanding the Cherry Hill store by adding a grocery component. One township spokesman said the zoning at the mall would probably allow the addition of a grocery store. The official acknowledged that the township “cannot comment on any conceptual or theoretical plans until a plan is turned in by an applicant.” To his credit, Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt has advocated for increased zoning controls over big-boxes in his township. The Mayor has already proposed a zoning amendment that would require stores larger than 80,000 s.f. in some zones to get a variance, which gives the township more control over such projects. But no variance amendment has been submitted, and in fact the township has not even set up a subcommittee to review the idea. This gives Wal-Mart and Vornado plenty of time to submit a plan that would be grandfathered from any subsequent change contemplated by the Mayor.
The chairman of the township’s Planning Board told the Courier Post that more control over future big box stores was needed because the sites still left for development were often abutting residentially zoned land. “The mayor strongly believes that the township has reached a big-box limit on retailers that are larger than 100,000 s.f.” a township official told the newspaper. “He believes further proliferation of these types of stores will be detrimental to the local economy.”
Mayor Platt is a small businessman himself, the owner of a family-run funeral home. Readers are urged to email Mayor Bernie Platt at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Platt, Your idea to require retail buildings in excess of 80,000 s.f. to obtain a variance from the township is a fine idea — but it won’t go far enough to prevent further big box sprawl in Cherry Hill. Consider the proposal from Wal-Mart to expand on their 4 year old store. As you know, this expansion is merely being done to give Wal-Mart a greater market share of grocery sales in Cherry Hill. It’s not a job creator, it’s not a revenue generator. It’s just a way for Wal-Mart to take sales away from existing grocery stores in the Cherry Hill trade area. The other fact is that Wal-Mart today is building superstores that are smaller than your 142,0000 s.f. facility on Route 30. The retailer builds superstores today as small at 99,000 s.f., and recently in Milwaukee and elsewhere, the company remodeled existing stores smaller than yours to become supercenters. As Mayor, you can tell Vornado to simply reconfigure the interior of the store to do what they want — but no expanded footprint. Making the Vornado Shopping Center larger will only further encroach on residential neighbors. The only things that will increase in Cherry Hill are traffic and crime. This proposal adds no value economically to your township. It’s time to act decisively to put an end to suburban sprawl in your community. Your Planning Board can write one sentence to the zoning code that prohibits retail stores in excess of 85,000 s.f. and end the controversy over huge superstores. Existing stores would be grandfathered, but new stores larger than 85,000 s.f. would not be permitted. Your variance plan does not provide outright protection for homeowners that a cap on retail size would provide. Just as the township regulates building height, you can regulate building bulk as well. But you need to act aggressively, because Wal-Mart will be filing soon, and will submit anything to get their plans in before a cap is enacted. You have two choices: lead growth, or follow it. Right now, you are following the developer’s lead, and that’s not leadership at all.”