Last night I was one of over 800 neighbors and friends who attended the community meeting at Patterson Mill High School on the proposed new WalMart Superstore at 924 and Plumtree. Our neighborhoods are primarily residential with Festival Bel Air being the only large commercial area nearby.
The turnout, in spite of rain and storms in the area, filled the auditorium to standing room only capacity. Emotions ran high and anger and verbal outbursts were common throughout the meeting. Resident after resident stood to speak on their opposition as well as reports of 800-900 index cards with questions/comments were collected.
This meeting was held by WalMart as required by our local law. The panel included store officials, the architect and a representative from the company that did the traffic study (which was conducted during the day while school was in session). At times the panel looked very weary as shouts and opposition over, over and over was hurled at them. While they were respectful and answered questions, many answers were carefully crafted to not answer the question directly. Many of our elected officials were in attendance as well, and the crowd sent a very large message that if the store is allowed to go through they will face the wrath of voters. There was also a call to boycott WalMart and shop elsewhere. Still other neighbors vow to unite various groups to form a bigger group to protest all stages of the proposed WalMart site.
Traffic, safety issues, property value concerns, pollution of light, sound and an additional 10,000 cars per day were among the various concerns that were expressed. In short, if WalMart moves in to this site it will be disruptive to not only the neighborhoods and property owners, but local businesses as well, and have long reaching effects that will have devastating effects to the area. The site would be bumpered by Rt 24 and 924 but there will be no access from Rt 24, which will force all traffic to/from the store into local access roads through neighborhoods. According to the panel, the State Highway Administration will not allow an entrance on Rt 24.
People ask how this could possibly happen and why. It seems that Jeff Dinger of the Bel Air Community Foundation sounded the alarm in April of 2011 when public hearings were held on the zoning change to the property. It appears that rumors of a possible WalMart were already spreading at that time but since it was not highly publicized the hearing had a very poor turnout and the zoning change was allowed with the idea of allowing a mixed use commercial area, doctors offices, small stores, etc.
Then in May of 2012 we started hearing the rumblings that WalMart was conducting traffic studies but could not get public comment by WalMart. Now we know for sure that WalMart plans to move from the current Abingdon site and wants to move into a primarily residential area and build a possible 24 hour store and change the quality of life in the area. What is the motivation?
It's possible it's a covenant that exists on their current property at Constant Friendship that will not allow a grocery store which is the reason WalMart wants to build elsewhere. That covenant expires in 2018. Pete Gutwald, Harford County director of planning and zoning, was cited in a May 2012 article that the existing site could handle an expansion but WalMart had not expressed any interest in doing so at that site. WalMart officials claimed at last night's meeting that they wouldn't be able to expand on the current site, and would not address Pete Gutwald's comments.
WalMart claims there is a demand for a store at this location and also claims they have studies that are all positive surrounding when WalMart moves into an area, but nobody in attendance could ever remember seeing a WalMart directly adjacent to a thriving neighborhood as they are mostly in highly commercial areas or major intersections and the facts about WalMart do not support their claims.
In an article in the Hawaii News Daily, the following facts were presented:
The following are 20 facts about Wal-Mart that will absolutely shock you....
#1 The average U.S. family now spends more than $4000 a year at Wal-Mart.
#2 In 2010, Wal-Mart had revenues of 421 billion dollars. That amount was greater than the GDP of 170 different countries including Norway, Venezuela and the United Arab Emirates.
#3 If Wal-Mart was a nation, it would have the 23rd largest GDP in the world.
#4 Wal-Mart now sells more groceries than anyone else in America does. In the United States today, one out of every four grocery dollars is spent at Wal-Mart.
#5 Amazingly, 100 million customers shop at Wal-Mart every single week.
#6 Wal-Mart has opened more than 1,100 "supercenters" since 2005 alone.
#7 Today, Wal-Mart has more than 2 million employees.
#8 If Wal-Mart was an army, it would be the second largest military on the planet behind China.
#9 Wal-Mart is the largest employer in 25 different U.S. states.
#10 According to the Economic Policy Institute, trade between Wal-Mart and China resulted in the loss of 133,000 manufacturing jobs in the United States between 2001 and 2006.
#11 The CEO of Wal-Mart makes more in a single hour than a full-time Wal-Mart associate makes in an entire year.
#12 Tens of thousands of Wal-Mart employees and their children are enrolled in Medicaid and are dependent on the government for healthcare.
#13 Between 2001 and 2007, the value of products that Wal-Mart imported from China grew from $9 billion to $27 billion.
#14 Sadly, about 85 percent of all the products sold at Wal-Mart are made outside of the United States.
#15 It is being reported that about 80 percent of all Wal-Mart suppliers are in China at this point.
#16 Amazingly, 96 percent of all Americans now live within 20 miles of a Wal-Mart.
#17 The number of "independent retailers" in the United States declined by 60,000 between 1992 and 2007.
#18 According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Wal-Mart spent 7.8 million dollars on political lobbying during 2011. That number does not even include campaign contributions.
#19 Today, Wal-Mart has five times the sales of the second largest U.S. retailer (Costco).
#20 The combined net worth of six members of the Walton family is roughly equal to the combined net worth of the poorest 30 percent of all Americans.
All over the country, independent retailers are going out of business because they cannot compete with Wal-Mart and their super cheap Chinese products. Often communities will give Wal-Mart huge tax breaks just to move in to their areas. But what many communities don't take into account is that the introduction of a Wal-Mart is often absolutely devastating to small businesses....
A study of small and rural towns in Iowa showed lost sales for local businesses ranging from -17.2% in small towns to -61.4% in rural areas, amounting to a total dollar loss of $2.46 BILLION over a 13-year period.
Wal-Mart often tells one thing to the public and then does another thing in private. Sadly, the truth is that Wal-Mart does not care about U.S. manufacturing jobs. Wal-Mart just wants to get products as cheaply as they possibly can, and most of the time that means getting them from China.
Just check out this first-hand testimony from an 81-year-old retired apparel manufacturer....
I was president of the Southwestern Apparel Manufacturers Association. There was a meeting sometime between 1985 and 1990. Walmart had contacted our organization and asked if they could meet with us at our beautiful Apparel Mart we had here in Dallas, which has now been razed, because all the independent merchants don’t exist that used to come to it. Two people from Walmart came down and they said they were going to be sourcing goods from overseas and we would have to meet those prices for consumer products and to get ready for it—we are going to be sourcing the world. Walmart was the only company that came out and said this.
It was sort of shocking: I was selling them some merchandise at the time. On the back of their trucks it was saying “Bring it Back to America!” They had the big “keep it in America” program going at that time on the big signs in the stores. Meanwhile when I reminded the buyer of that, she told me, “that is just for domestic consumption, we’re going to buy at the cheapest we can anywhere on earth.”
We are losing millions of good jobs that cannot be replaced. If you can believe it, the United States has actually lost an average of about 50,000 manufacturing jobs a month since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.