Vol. 8, No. 20
May 18-24, 2000
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Wal-Mart Dumbs Down Smart-Growth

It should come as no surprise to read that Maryland’s Smart Growth law is powerless to block Wal-Mart’s plan to deposit one of its massive ugly boxes on the narrow swath of land called Kent Island.

When Gov. Parris Glendening’s Smart Growth legislation whizzed through the General Assembly three years ago, the centerpiece was this: No public money can be used to help finance development that abets sprawl.

Now that Wal-Mart is closing in on Kent Island, we are seeing breathless reports that Smart Growth can’t do anything to stop it. As Gomer Pyle used to say, “GOLLLL … ee.”

Do we really think that a company with $165 billion in sales last year simply will fold its tent at the prospect of writing its own check for a few million dollars worth of road and sewer work?

Do we expect ole Sam Walton’s heirs to throw up their hands and say: “Well, Maryland’s big, bad Smart Growth law has whupped our hinies. Guess there’s a new sheriff in town”?

People who are stunned at Smart Growth’s failure to erect a stop sign in front of Wal-mart have to be a tad naive, overly cynical or both. Naive to think that a corporation with the gene for relentless growth (3,500 stores) would bow to anything short of massive resistance or indictment. Cynical to think that corporations always need to soak the taxpayer for the infrastructure to make their investments work.

Truth be told, people may be a tad lazy, too, if they expect the state to do their work for them. If people don’t want Wal-Mart in Kent Island or in Annapolis at Parole, where Wal-Mart also has designs, then people need to get the word out about the kind of company Wal-Mart is.

They should inform their neighbors about the many states and localities finding out that environmentally, Wal-Mart is a bad actor. That’s why the state of Connecticut sued Wal-Mart last month for a pattern of water pollution violations. That’s why authorities in Tennessee recently accused Wal-Mart of improprieties in removing a stream to make way for 1,000 parking places.

They should tell a friend how Wal-Mart bullies its way into towns, as in Huntington Beach, Calif., where Wal-Mart spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to sink a citizens’ referendum. They should mention how Wal-Mart puts homegrown retailers out of business and exerts the kind of pressure on suppliers that forces them to close American factories.

They should make known how they feel about cookie-cutter architecture in Chesapeake Country, about how Maryland’s landscape will look with yet another massive, gray-and-white windowless box with a blue-and-red sign at the back of a treeless parking lot.

Speaking of cynical, we’re starting to sound that way ourselves.

Good thing the Kent Island battle is not yet over: The anti-Wal-Mart forces still have in hand a citizen advisory committee’s long-range growth plan recommending that the Kent Island land in question should be a “marina growth area” and a “tourism center with water-oriented and commercial uses.”

Sounds to us like a court fight brewing, one that could have a bearing on what becomes of the work of the Small Area Planning Committees busy as bees in Anne Arundel County right now.

Of course, if people didn’t fill Wal-Mart’s parking lots until the wee hours looking to save 35 cents, we wouldn’t need a judge or a governor to get us out of another superstore jam.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly