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The Tentacle


April 23, 2013

To Walmart or Not to Walmart?

Pattee Brown

Recently there has been much discussion regarding the possibility of a Walmart being erected at the Frederick Towne Mall. But whether the site should house a Walmart isn’t necessarily a decision the city’s Board of Aldermen should be making.

 

The building that used to be the Frederick Towne Mall, which sits between Home Depot and Boscov’s, is owned by a third party who is working with a developer to redevelop the property. The developer has approached the city’s Planning Commission and submitted a proposal to level the original building to make way for a Super Walmart in its place. In order for that to happen, the zoning needs to be changed. The planning commission has recommended against this change.

 

About 10 years ago the aldermen voted to change the original zoning to accommodate a mixed use project, which would have allowed a commercial and residential building to constructed. Community members, who were involved in that original decision making process, had the vision of revitalizing and changing the face of Route 40 West by creating a more beautified pedestrian-friendly environment that would welcome small shops, cafes, walking areas and residential neighborhoods. The vision was most likely similar to Market Square currently being erected off Route 26.

 

But, after 10 years and an economy that simply wouldn’t support this vision of that property, coupled with the fact that this location was brown space and not green space and the neighborhood had a less than stellar reputation, the vision never came to fruition.

 

So, now, the developer, who claims to have approached almost every other major retailer we have inquired about, including Trader Joes, Nordstrom’s, Target, Old Navy, etc., has found that Walmart is interested in building a Super Walmart there.

 

On WFMD’s Frederick’s Forum last past Saturday, Aldermen Michael O’Connor and Karen Young indicated that the Board of Alderman is torn as to what is best. But what isn’t obvious is whether they feel the decision should be based on the particular retail establishment being proposed, or whether it should be based on the merit of the proposal regardless of the retail establishment.

 

The conundrum seems valid. One might initially think that the aldermen should be voting either for or against this zoning change based specifically on whether their constituents want another Walmart in Frederick. But in truth, it seems that is the very last thing they should be considering.

 

It isn’t government’s job to decide which retailers should or should not be allowed to open their doors. It isn’t government’s job to protect other businesses from competitors that might affect their business. Government’s job is to make decisions, such as zoning choices, that are in the best interest of the community.

 

In other words, is it in the best interest of the Route 40 West area to have the Frederick Towne Mall zoned where a commercial retailer can open its doors, or is it best to wait for a developer willing to build a mixed use development? Which option is best for the community at large? And, on what are those decisions based?

 

Those are the questions government should be asking and answering, not whether Walmart should be allowed to have a third store in Frederick.

 

The idea of government being so involved in decisions such as what stores should or shouldn’t be allowed in our communities is very frightening.

 

Many people, when asked by the aldermen whether they want a Walmart in that area, have said what stores they would prefer to see there. Anything but Walmart is much of what is said.

 

But, after 10 years of seeking developers who might want to build a mixed use project, or seeking retailers who might want to step in and do what Walmart is currently proposing, at some point we have to ask ourselves: Is it for government to stop a property owner from developing their land by tying their hands with zoning?

 

It might feel ideal to let the government fight this battle. Given this opportunity to keep Walmart out by simply not changing the zoning would certainly be an easy answer for those who don’t want Walmart here. But is it the right answer and should we allow government to set such a precedent? Is that not a slippery slope?

 

Perhaps, as a community, if we really don’t want another Walmart, we will have to fight this ourselves. Let’s face it; Walmart wouldn’t want to build a third store in Frederick if Fredericktonians weren’t buying at Walmart. It might not be a truth you want to hear, but it is the truth none the less.

 

If people were willing to pay a little more and be a little inconvenienced by going to various stores in various areas to do their shopping in order to avoid Walmart, Walmart wouldn’t want to build a third store. Like it or not, the majority of Fredericktonians shop at Walmart and majority rules.

 

If you want to change something in your life, change something in your life. Gather your pitch forks and torches and start a campaign to boycott Walmart, then and only then might you be able to keep them out of our neighborhoods.

 

But asking government to step in and make that decision for you just flies in the face of what government is meant to do.

 



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