It’s been a terrible couple of months for Wal-Mart in New York state. The retailer lost battles in September in Amherst, and Victor, New York, and pulled the plug on its own in Lima, New York. Last month, Wal-Mart lost a battle in Ballston, New York. Now a fifth New York community has dodged the retail bullet. Residents in Rotterdam, New York are celebrating a hard fought victory over a Wal-Mart supercenter this week. The Albany Times Union reports that Wal-Mart has cut the rope on its proposed supercenter, the climax to months of angry protests and a freeze on building projects. Wal-Mart corporate offices in Bentonville, Arkansas issued a press release saying that it was dropping plans to build a 200,000 s.f. store because the company realized it was not going to get permit approval. “Among other things, it has become evident that Wal-Mart will be unable to obtain those permits and approvals necessary to permit it to use the subject premises as a Wal-Mart Supercenter,” the company said. Wal-Mart added it has “no other plans to bring a Supercenter to Rotterdam.” Although a Wal-Mart spokesman said this kind of withdrawal doesn’t happen that often, this the third such Wal-Mart withdrawal recently that Sprawl-Busters has recorded. In Lima, New York and Canton, Illinois, Wal-Mart withdrew its own projects — so this is at least the third implosion for Wal-Mart this month. A spokesman from the group “Save Rotterdam” told the Times Union, “We didn’t perceive that (building Wal-Mart) as a net gain.” A lawsuit was filed against the town for a zoning change that created a “corporate commerce” zone. A judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, but the decision is being appealed by Rotterdam officials. The landowners who hoped to sell to Wal-Mart said the “corporate commerce” zone was just a ruse to stop Wal-Mart. But town officials said the zone was purposefully written to attract high-paying office jobs for the community’s economy. “We’ve maintained all along that this was not all about Wal-Mart, but about proper planning, and attracting the right business to town,” one town official told the newspaper. The town also imposed a building moratorium. “We didn’t believe this would be the right project in that area,” the official explained. “This is one of Rotterdam’s last opportunities to decide how we want our community to stand out and stand out above the rest,” a Save Rotterdam spokesperson told the paper.
The Wal-Marts are falling like a house of cards, some being pushed, some they push over themselves. In the Rotterdam case, local officials made it clear what kind of development they wanted, and where. With this kind of specificity, a community can guide its growth, rather than be guided by developers. More and more communities are deciding that the big box format is not an inviting option for them.