On May 11, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that a coalition of labor, neighbors, and environmental groups in a small town in New Jersey had won an important victory over Walmart and sprawl development. Two months later, on July 14, 2008, we reported that the Walmart developer sent the town of Pennsville, New Jersey a one sentence letter which read: "Please be advised that the applicant is hereby withdrawing the above referenced application." But this week, three and a half years later, Walmart is back in Pennsville.
On January 25, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that Walmart Realty had chosen a site to construct a 220,000 s.f. superstore abutting the 2,800 acre Supawna Meadows National Wildlife Refuge. Part of Supawna Refuge is designated by the Department of Environmental Protection's Endangered and Non-Game Species Program as a bald eagle and raptor foraging area. The Planning Board in Pennsville had no qualms about allowing Walmart into the Refuge, but that’s when the retailer ran into a legal swamp. A group called COPAS, the Citizens of Pennsville Against Sprawl, fought the project on environmental and traffic issues, among others. Residents said one Walmart in Pennsville, was one more than enough. So Walmart has decided to expand the existing store it already has in Pennsville.
The existing discount store in the township is 1/4 mile away, and would have been shut down if the supercenter were ever built. Walmart wanted to build on the Sinnickson farm, 77 acres of land that includes a salt marsh, meadows, and open fields. The property lies along the headwaters of the Mill Creek, which is one of the most sensitive bird habitats in New Jersey. Mill Creek feeds into the Delaware River, which hosts at least 7 endangered species.
After a protracted and contentious application process, Walmart’s developer, Angeloni Development LLC, let its option to purchase the property expire when the project hit additional roadblocks. The fiercely contested 280,000-square-foot Supercenter would have been located on the intersection of Route 49 and Lighthouse Road, which, according to the Wildlife Refuge Manager, “has remained a conservation priority of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for years.”
"(This victory) speaks volumes to the effectiveness of a community's efforts in coming together to give a voice to and fight for the protection of an ecosystem that is integral to Salem County,” said a spokesperson for the Salem County Watershed Taskforce. "The land will have a chance to go on in perpetuity doing what it was designed to do support an ecosystem that so much of our wildlife depends on."
The Sunbeam newspaper reports this week that Walmart is looking to expand its existing store in the Pennsville Marketplace by more than 58,000 s.f. Another developer, American Continental Properties Pennsville Associates, LLC has presented plans to the township planning board this month. The existing Walmart is 93,188 s.f. and would expand to 151,570 s.f. To construct this larger store, the developer has to tear down a Superfresh grocery store in the same mall that did not thrive after Walmart became the anchor tenant.
Instead of using the term “superstore,” Walmart is telling local media their plan is for a “full-service” store, which also includes a garden center. Walmart said their new store would create a more friendly store with “a new facility feel from inside to outside.”
The Planning Board took no votes on the plan, which will require a public hearing process. Walmart hopes to start adding the expansion this summer.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Pennsville townwship is located just off the Delaware Memorial bridge, 12 miles from Wilmington, Delaware, 34 miles from Philadelphia, and 63 miles from Atlantic City. The township has a population of just under 12,000 people. The township already has one large Walmart store, and there is really no market need for an expanded store. The Walmart proposal is more about gaining more market share than fulfilling unmet market need. All this project will do is cause other nearby grocery stores to fail, just as the Superfresh store did in 2008.
Readers are urged to email Pennsville Mayor Richard Barnhart at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
“Dear Mayor Barnhart,
The historic township of Pennsville does not need to become Walmartsville. The idea that a small town with less than 12,000 people needs a retail store the size of three football fields (not counting the huge parking lot) is ridiculous. This proposed building is totally out of scale with the rest of the community, and will add traffic to an already busy part of the township. More importantly, it is not a form of economic development, because most of its sales will come from existing cash registers.
Yes, this is better than the Supawna Meadows proposal—but it is still too big and unnecessary. The township will get nothing out of this project except more suburban sprawl. As online shopping expands, huge stores like this may one day stand empty and dark—and it will be left to the township’s taxpayers to tear it down.”