Sprawl-busters in Pensacola, FL passed this item on to us, which dates back over a year ago. It seems that County Commissioners in Santa Rosa, FL literally tried to put Wal-Mart’s lights out when they voted unanimously against issuing a temporary certificate of occupancy to Wal-Mart until their lights shining on neighboring houses were turned down. The 183,000 s.f. supercenter was scheduled to open up in January of 1998, but was delayed when the county responded to repeated complaints from the Sterling Point subdivision along the store’s property line. “It lights up our yards,” said one neighbor quoted in the Pensacola News Journal. “It’s never dark at night when you turn your lights off to go to bed.” The county said Wal-Mart’s light violate the county’s code, which regulates the brightness of lights, and requires that exterior lights not shine directly on neighboring property. County Commissioner Bill Campbell complained that Wal-Mart’s glow was keeping area bedroooms like daylight. “From the beginning”, Campbell said, “this Wal-Mart group has not paid any attention to the community which they are imposing on.” The construction company which built the store for Wal-Mart said they would add hoods over the parking lot lights and redirect spotlights that were pointing towards nearby homes. One Sterling Point resident said the light at Wal-Mart are so bright, he can read a paper in his backyard at night. He said the glare forced him to add 3 layers of window treatments in his bedroom — a blackout curtain, lined curtain, and plastic blinds. “You have to basically shut all the doors,” he told Commissioners. “All we wanted from the beginning was someone to answer our questions. All they’ve said is ‘we’re good neighbors’. The homeowners in Sterling Point had to fight to get Wal-Mart to reduce up to 1.071 square feet of signs the company wanted on the buildings. Wal-Mart ended up getting 335 s.f. of signs on the building.
By now the company has probably settled this “light war” with the residents of Sterling Point. But neighbors usually have no idea just what it means to have a Wal-Mart as a nightlight. Such enormous development like a 183,000 s.f. in your neighborhood has a major impact on property values. It’s great for people who like to read the newspaper in the middle of the night, but for everyone else, big box retail impacts can never be mitigated once the store is up and running. Neighbors who are trying to “mitigate” the impact of a Wal-Mart, should realize that a buffer wall or new lighting scheme will never really “hide” the Wal-Mart in your midst.