The Nassau County Public Works Director is worried about plans for a 183,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter on this small barrier island in Northern Florida. After all, the island is only 13.5 miles long and 4 miles wide. “I can’t see how this (supercenter) wouldn’t have an adverse impact at the location,” Public Works Director Jack D’Amato told the News Leader newspaper. The real estate people at Wal-Mart, however, are not worried about traffic or any other barrier, for that matter. They say they need to build a new Wal-Mart because the 73,000 s.f. Wal-Mart they already have on the island is doing well financially. Opening up a stand alone store means they can leave behind the old store, which will severely impact their grocery rival Winn-Dixie, potentially creating a dead mall that could take years to reconfigure. Putting a superstore with an 800 car parking lot on a 12 acre site is a real squeeze. Wal-Mart officials recently told authorities in St.Petersburg that”for a supercenter it is going to require at a minimum 18 to 20 acres.” The land in question was not zoned for intensive commerical development, but the Nassau County officials unanimously voted in late September to rezone the land from residential general to commercial intensive. The Commissioners’ rezoning vote came despite the fact that their own staff person, D’Amato, told them “this project has the potential elements of being termed a LULU — a Locally Undesirable Land Use.” The parcel in question is in an unannexed part of the county, and Wal-Mart needs the city to extend its sewer line to the site. But if Wal-Mart tries to get the land annexed by the city, it may create an “enclave”, or an area of land under one jurisdiction surrounded by land under another jurisdiction. Local officials may have no idea the potential crime problems posed by huge, 24 hour superstores. (see entry below for Kilmarnock, VA, where police say 21% of their criminal offense reports come from the Wal-Mart supercenter. Many residents are concerned that an inappropriately scaled store will hurt the Victorian seaport image of Fernandina Beach that has been so important to past and future tourism. The community has 52 blocks of buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. County Commissioners rezoned the land knowing it was for one specific corporation. One commissioner said publicly: “We don’t want to fight this thing.” The Commissioners have no data that shows them the fiscal impact this project will have on public revenues if other businesses in the downtown area close. Wal-Mart numbers have been accepted at face value without any impact study being done. Apparently the comprehensive plans of both city and county call for the two entities to engage in a joint planning task force. No such effort has been convened, and if the county opinion of the project prevails, the city could end up with one LULU of a project on its hands. The county’s vote to rezone can be appealed to the courts. The island’s Sierra Club has come out strongly against the proposal.
Call Wal-Mart’s real estate office at 501-273-4712, and tell them their plan for Fernandina Beach, FL is a really LULU. Suggest that they leave well enough alone with their current Wal-Mart store, which is only about 10 years old. You can also fax your comments on this Wal-Mart beach abomination by faxing a letter to the editor to the News-Leader at 904-261-3698.