POSTED: 21 AUGUST 2007- 7:30am HST

Wal-Mart lies sound familiar

image above: figurine of "Mal-Wart" from

Blacksburg's big-box juggernaut
by Christian Trejbal on 12 August 2007 in The Roanoke Times

Blacksburg, it's time you accept something. A Wal-Mart Supercenter is about to crash onto the south end of town. It's coming, and no one can do much about it.
I know. It's not fair. The developers duped the town or overestimated the tenants they could attract. A big-box store -- almost certainly a Supercenter -- won't fit with Blacksburg's character.

I hear you. I don't want it either.

I'm not worried about the proximity to Margaret Beeks Elementary School. The Helen Lovejoys' cries of, "Won't somebody please think of the children?" are far from persuasive.

No, I'm sick to my stomach about Wal-Mart because it's an evil company and bad for America.

I'm angry about the bait and switch the developers pulled. Fairmount Properties pitched a mixed-use, upscale project to the town. People envisioned a pedestrian-friendly retail center with trees and benches.

The developers and their backers stoked those dreams while seeking a zoning change.

Then they showed up with a Wal-Mart, low-end hangers-on, fast food and a sea of asphalt. The promised "traditional neighborhood" design vanished.
I'm infuriated that the town council changed the zoning to allow the project without getting everything in writing first. In the rush to boost Blacksburg's economy, council members let this happen.

I dread the traffic. Fairmount's engineers predict the benignly identified "free-standing discount superstore" will generate 9,204 vehicle trips per day. That's 4,602 cars coming and going, nearly half of the traffic for the entire project. Get ready for delays.

All of those cars will need more pavement, too. Fairmount proposes the town install a roundabout or left-turn lane at Country Club Drive and South Main Street. The developers will build lanes, lanes and more lanes at Ardmore and Marlington streets as well as the site entrance. The area will begin to look like the north end of Christiansburg in no time.

I'm mad at the citizens and landowners who sold out the town. The likes of Jeanne Stosser, Georgia Anne Snyder-Falkinham and their four mysterious, unnamed partners. They own the land that brought Fairmount to town and have fought for the project even as the depths of deception have been exposed.

Then there are the likes of former Mayor Roger Hedgepeth who headed the group that waged a brief battle against Ordinance 1450, the council's last gasp to block Wal-Mart.

Not that the ordinance was all that great. It contained a great idea, but was poorly executed and adopted too late.

That didn't stop the die-hards, though. The council and Blacksburg United for Responsible Growth (BURG) unfairly tried to change the rules in the middle of the game.

Orderly development and a functioning marketplace require the consistent rule of law, not shifting ordinances subject to the predilections of rabid BURGers and their council allies.

So here we are. The Board of Zoning Appeals has ruled Ordinance 1450 does not apply to Fairmount's project.

The council on Tuesday could make the BURGers happy and vote to appeal, but that would only throw good attorney fees after bad. The board's decision soundly reflects the law, the facts and fairness.

The development process will play itself out. Town staff will review the plans and tell Fairmount where they are deficient. Fairmount will submit revised versions. They'll go back and forth, and eventually everything will meet the black-and-white standards of the town code.

It's something, at least, that staff treats so unctuous an applicant fairly despite the public hostility.

Wal-Mart is coming. Blacksburg lost. Fairmount and a few select property owners won.

Now the town must decide how to move forward. BURGers and the council could cry about the situation and fight a losing cause. Alternatively, they could take steps to protect against the same thing happening in the future.
Don't patronize the big-box and other unwanted retail outlets. If their revenue is low, others will think twice before opening.

Remember those who aided and abetted this swindle. Think twice before trusting them again. In a town the size of Blacksburg, social ostracism can be powerful punishment.

Fix Ordinance 1450. It was a good idea, but the hasty execution left problems to fix before the next big-box announces its intentions.

Pass an ordinance that would require big-box stores to place a bond with the city to cover demolition costs in case the retailer leaves. It's a tossup which is worse, a Wal-Mart or its rotting shell.

Finally, keep hoping the owners of Fairmount will find their consciences and realize what they are doing to a wonderful community. It's the last, desperate hope.

For more on Big Box impact see:
Island Breath: Walmart will fight for expansion 7/16/07
Island Breath: Economy of Scale 5/3/07
IslandBreath: Pass Big Box Bill 12/29/06
Island Breath: Kauaifornia Big Box 11/19/06
Island Breath: Walmart - Always High Prices
Island Breath: Walmart Ditches Xmas
Island Breath: Big Box on Kauai
Island Breath: Big Box Impact Analysis

Island Breath: Mall-Warting America

Island Breath: Big Box Blues
Island Breath: Costco & Kauai Planning