This week Sprawl-Busters received the following communication from a resident in the small city (pop. 38,200) of Florence, Alabama:
“Unfortunately, we only found out about Walmart's plans about a week or so ago. I live outside the city limits so I don't have much clout with the city, but I did grow up in the North Florence area where they plan to build this store. I have talked with one of the leaders in this battle and plan to call him again today to see what really went on in the planning commission meeting last night.”
Tucked in the Northwest corner of Alabama, just north of Muscle Shoals, the city of Florence likes to say it “offers something for everyone.” The city already offers a Walmart supercenter on Hough Road, and several other nearby Walmarts to keep area residents stocked with Chinese imports.
The Mayor of Florence, Bobby Irons, describes his city as “Southern Living at its best. This is how life is supposed to be. From the houses on the bluffs overlooking the Tennessee River to the beautiful and historic homes in the city's downtown area, life in Florence is full of beauty.”
That’s what has people worried about Walmart: the loss of beauty in their historic community, and the Mayor’s emphasis on Florence as a “shopping hub” for the tri-state area. At some point, the “enhanced quality of life,” that the city boasts about, comes into direct conflict with the claim that Florence and the Shoals Area is “the sixth largest market in Alabama.”
According to The Times Daily newspaper, Walmart walked into the city’s Planning Commission December 22nd, and walked out with a big wrapped present from the Commission: preliminary approval for their plan to build a new Walmart on Cloverdale Road.
Walmart came to the commission asking not only that 5 acres of land be annexed by the city for this huge project—but even more appalling—Walmart wanted the whole site to be rezoned from single-family residential (R-1) to multiple retail business (B-2). Of the 7 Planning Commissioners, only 2 voted against the rezoning.
The holiday spirit was ruined that night by roughly 150 people who attended the meeting to protest the planned retail complex. “You’re fixing to make a big mistake,” a local real estate appraiser warned the commission.
One Commissioner heeded that advice. Commissioner Susan Stanley reminded her colleagues that the city’s own master plan says that while the Cloverdale Road area is a growth area—anything proposed for the site must be complimentary to the surrounding area. The presence of so many homeowners against the plan should have chastened the commission, but only Commissioner Stanley saw the incompatibility of this plan. “I’m not seeing the positive here,” she admitted.
Another Commissioner who lives near the proposed site abstained from the vote—exactly the opposite of what a neighbor should have done. The 26 acre parcel is just north of a large development of homes known as the Heathrow subdivision. Acording to the Times Daily, neighbors raised concerns over the traffic impacts of the proposed store, which Walmart had not sufficienty mitigated.
One local merchant who owns several grocery stores, told the Commission that Walmart's additional store was all about market share, and not about local need. Publix, an employee-owned grocery chain, is constructing a new store less than half a mile from the existing Walmart superstore on Hough Road. “This is a surround Publix move,” the local grocery store owned explained.
Walmart gave city officials the usual line about having to build another store because they have outgrown their first store. But another resident challenged that statement, and said: “This is big businesses fighting each other. Truer words have never been spoken.”
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The Commission Chairman apparently believed that Walmart had met all the planning and zoning regulations established for a rezoning.
But the city’s Zoning Ordinance says that the purpose of zoning in Florence is to give “consideration to the character of the districts and their peculiar suitability for particular uses with a view to conserving the value of buildings and encouraging the most appropriate use of land throughout the city.”
The R-1 zone prohibits all commercial activities. Placing a B-2 zone right next to it is an incompatible placement of districts.
Residents opposed to this project should pay close attention to section XIV of their Zoning Ordinance, which deals with amendment procedure. Rezoning is an amendment to the zoning map, the purpose of amendments is to “carry out the objective of sound and desirable development. It is recognized that casual amendment of the ordinance would be detrimental to the achievement of that objective.”
Under Florence zoning, Walmart is required to provide “a description of the probable effect on the surrounding land uses and properties.” That means assessing the impact on residential values. It is unlikely that Walmart would ever offer to do that unless told to do it.
Reader are urged to email Florence Mayor Bobby Irons at email@example.com with this message:
“Dear Mayor Irons,
The large turnout recently at the Walmart hearing should tell you that something is very wrong with building a Walmart near a retail subdivision on Cloverdale Road. These are incompatible land uses, and the vote taken by your Planning Commission is an example of “casual amendment” that flies in the face of good land use planning.
Walmart will have an adverse impact on the residential value of surrounding properties, and unless you turn down the rezoning, you will be giving Walmart a larger market share in Florence at the expense of abutting homeowners.
There is such a thing as neighborhood commercial development—something more compatible—but this is not it. The neighbors understand the impact on traffic and surrounding properties. Now its time for the City Council to support its homeowners.
You can’t buy small town quality of life on any shelf at Walmart—and once they take it from you, they can’t sell it back at any price. You already have a Walmart's superstore on Hough Road—one Walmart is one more than enough for Florence.”