On May 1, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was trying to break the shell of Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey. The giant retailer was presenting the township with a “concept plan” for a supercenter. The store would be located on Route 9, just north of Otis Bog Road. There’s currently a Wal-Mart store in Manahawkin, New Jersey about 9 miles away, and another in Mays Landing 19 miles south. The land Wal-Mart wanted in Little Egg Harbor is in a coastal area — and the retailer’s proposal got mired in environmental red tape. About 25 miles to the south, Wal-Mart has also been trying to crack a larger egg — this time in Egg Harbor, New Jersey. Of these two communities, Egg Harbor is the larger, with a population of close to 40,000 people. Located in Atlantic County, Egg Harbor is approximately 7 miles from Atlantic City, while Little Egg Harbor is 30 miles north of Atlantic City. But Wal-Mart wanted to make an omelette of both Egg Harbor and its slightly smaller Little Egg Harbor. The Press of Atlantic City reports this week that Wal-Mart has been trying to break into Egg Harbor since 2004. Wal-Mart first expressed interest in an Egg Harbor site which was the former home of the Atlantic Electric Company. While some opponents had hoped that Wal-Mart would just disappear, the Press reports that a 188,759 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore is still in the works. A spokesman for the retailer told the Press that Wal-Mart still wants to use the 35 acres for a superstore. Local officials see the proposed store as part of their economic future. “Any new development that happens in the area is a major plus,” said the chairman of the Atlantic County Economic Development Council. “We haven’t seen anything like that in a few years.” The utility company still has a buy/sell agreement with Wal-Mart, which has been in place for five years, when the township’s Planning Board approved Wal-Mart’s plan. But the project came to a halt when the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) wanted some major roadway changes made, including creating a new public access road to the store. In August of 2009, the state DOT gave the Wal-Mart plan conceptual approval. The developer has resubmitted new plans for a project called the Oak Tree Plaza, and added a new public access road. In addition to the Wal-Mart supercenter, the plan now calls for two other retail buildings at 18,000 s.f. each, a 4,000 s.f. bank, three fast food restaurants and one sit-down restaurant. The lawyer for the developer said the project “will provide a vibrant commercial center which will create new jobs and add to the tax ratable base.” Last month, when the plan came before the township’s Technical Review Committee, the project was deemed incomplete. The committee asked the developer to create more of a buffer zone for the residential property that abuts the project, the London Court Condominiums. The project is not expected to reach the township’s Planning Board sooner than January.
Egg Harbor Township encompasses 41,600 acres. It includes the villages of Bargaintown, English Creek, Scullville, Steelmanville, McKee City, Cardiff, Farmington and West Atlantic City. Egg Harbor Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough can’t say enough positive about Wal-Mart in his small town. McCullough is an institution in Egg Harbor. He’s currently serving his 20th term as Mayor of Egg Harbor Township, having first assumed office back in 1986. The Mayor is excited by this plan because the former tenant, an electric company, did not pay business taxes to the township. McCullough believes that Wal-Mart will help the town’s property tax collections. “So Walmart will become a ratable, which is good news for the taxpayers of Egg Harbor Township,” the Mayor told the newspaper. The Press of Atlantic City cautions, however, that “While a Wal-Mart and the larger retail complex would create new jobs, its presence would almost certainly be felt by area businesses.” A Genuardi’s supermarket is about a half-mile from the proposed superstore, and Bob’s Garden Center is about two miles away. These two businesses could be severely hurt by the Wal-Mart project. The owner of Bob’s Garden Center put on a brave front — typical of small buisness owners. “We’ve been in the area for over 40 years, when there was nothing in the area,” said the spokesman for Bob’s. “Competition is good. It keeps you on on your toes and makes you be a better business.” But after a year or two near a Wal-Mart, Bob’s Garden Center may have no toes left. The irony is that there is no market need for another Wal-Mart superstore. The company already has a store 5 miles away on Black Horse Pike in May’s Landing. That store is not a supercenter, however, and it is very possible that the May’s Landing store would be shut down. Most of Wal-Mart’s sales at a superstore in Egg Harbor will come from their May’s Landing store, and from grocery stores and other retailers in Egg Harbor. According to Egg Harbor’s Master Plan from 2002, “Egg Harbor Township has experienced an unprecedented level of growth over the past twenty years. The Township has had a 55% increase in population since 1980 with no end in the foreseeable future. Growth in the Township is projected to continue at a consistent pace through the next two decades so that growth management and fiscal stability have become the Township’s most pressing concerns.” Traffic congestion and growth problems are so critical to the township, that the 2008 update to the Master Plan suggests that “The Township should continue to pursue the proposed Timed Growth Legislation. This legislation will provide for a phasing of growth or capital contributions from developers and could be an important component of the Township’s continued development.” One of the goals of the updated Master Plan is “to create an atmosphere within the municipality which is conducive toward the retention of existing businesses.” Readers are urged to email Egg Harbor Mayor Sonny McCollough at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor McCollough, Your township has a Wal-Mart discount store 5 miles away in May’s Landing. I know you want more ratables in your township, and the Atlantic Electric Company site produces little revenue. But don’t confuse a Wal-Mart superstore with economic development. Wal-Mart is a form of economic transfer: it’s sales will come largely from its May’s Landing store, and area grocery and department stores/garden centers in Egg Harbor. Your updated Master Plan talks about ‘creating an atmosphere which is conducive toward the retention of local businesses.’ Wal-Mart will cannibalize your existing businesses, and the net job impact will be almost negligible. The Atlantic Electric site should be used for a higher purpose: office park, high tech industrial use, or even housing. There is residential property abutting this site, which will also be harmed by the proximity to an intense commercial use. Hold out for something better than 35 acres of concrete and asphalt retail. Don’t let Wal-Mart make an omelette of your small business class in Egg Harbor.”