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Initial meeting about potential Wal-Mart was a success

By Chatham Citizens for Effective Communities
Posted Monday, August 1, 2005

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The informational pro and con meeting held at Dockside Restaurant on Thursday, July 28th regarding a potential Wal Mart in northeast Chatham was a success for the approximately two hundred people who attended.

CHATHAM FIRST, a new citizen action group opposing any Wal Mart development at this site, and headed by Mark Barroso, was affirmed and supported with donations as people departed. Moderator Gary Phillips set the tone for a fair, balanced and participatory citizen event.

Although no application has yet been made by Wal Mart, the panel of Mark Barroso; Mitch Renkow, NCSU Economist; Loyse Hurley, President of CCEC; Keith Megginson, Chatham County Planning Director; John Graybeal, Attorney and CCEC Board Member; Bob Eby, CCEC Board Member; Rich Hayes, Soil Engineer in the State Department of Water Quality and CCEC Board member; and Jeffrey Starkweather, President of the Chatham Coalition and CCEC Board member addressed the various issues that would need to be reviewed should an application be submitted.

Mark Barroso began with what we know and the impact the footprint would have on the future of northeastern Chatham.

Loyse Hurley indicated that CCEC is committed to providing information about both Wal Mart and the Lee Moore Oil Company site along 15/501. She addressed the location and the specifics of the 62.9-acre site.

Mitch Renkow looked at the tax revenues that come into the counties and municipalities as well as the fall out on small businesses in local communities when a large box store such as Wal Mart comes into an area. Some studies show that in some areas around the country, there have been high vacancies in shopping centers where small businesses have failed, with consequent negative fall-out on business professionals (accountants, service providers, etc.) who have worked with them.

Keith Megginson explained the process the county would have to pursue, should a Wal Mart application be made. There is no need for a Conditional Use Permit on 20 acres of the site since it is already zoned for business. However, the remaining 42.9 acres are zoned residential and would have to be re-zoned, requiring a Conditional Use Permit. Such a rezoning request requires a Public Notice, a Public Hearing before the Board of Commissioners, Planning Board review and eventual Board of Commissioners’ approval.

Keith also explained that the Planning Board was looking at other ways to accommodate a large box store on this property, since it was doubtful that the development could meet the current impervious surface requirements. One of these is a modification of the Watershed Protection Ordinance. Known as the 10/70 Rule, it would allow for up to a 70% impervious surface area to be developed in 10% of this area of the watershed. Under this rule, current development would be excluded from any measurement. Keith also mentioned other possible changes in the approval process such as Conditional Zoning, which is being looked into to improve the process. Details on Conditional Zoning can be found under “Planning” on the Chatham County web site.

John Graybeal addressed the specific conditions that must be met for a Conditional Use Permit approval. He specifically referred to the requirements (Five Findings) that the Board of Commissioners must affirmatively find in order to approve a Conditional Use Permit:

* Not impair the integrity or character of surrounding area nor be detrimental to the health, safety or welfare of the community, (Finding Number 3), and
* Be consistent with the Land Development Plan (Finding Number 4.)

Rich Hayes addressed the environmental effects of solid waste, wastewater, and storm water from a large box store shopping center. Limiting impervious surfaces protects water quality in streams and lakes. The less run-off from paved roads, roofs, parking lots, etc., the better the quality of our water. An impervious surface of 10% starts to degrade the water. Rich mentioned the current degradation problem with Jordan Lake, which if further impaired may require costly storm water controls and County monitoring. Some of the implications of the use of the 10/70 Rule, if applied to the Wal-Mart site, were also discussed.

Bob Eby explained that the traffic flow figures in the October 2004 study for the Lee Moore Oil Co. for the Wal Mart site were based on data that did not include all the most recent information, but were based on the DOT estimate of 3% growth for this area. When compared to the traffic study conducted for the Briar Chapel development (which did not include all the recently approved development estimates) the flow-through traffic estimates are incorrect. To make a reliable estimate of traffic at this time, the DOT would need to revise their assumptions and consider other variables, including data from all the newly built developments, both residential and commercial, along the 15-501 corridor from both the southerly and the northerly directions.

Jeffrey Starkweather addressed the employment practices of Wal Mart and the specific racial and sexual discrimination history of the company. He questioned whether Chatham really wanted this type of employer to occupy two stores in the county.

The open question and answer session at the end of the meeting produced a variety of questions and comments that are posted below.

QUESTIONS & COMMENTS

ECONOMICS

1. There is already a Wal-Mart in Siler City, 20 minutes away. Also, there are two other Wal-Marts within 30 minutes of this site and 1 proposed for the Apex area. Does this negate part of the economic analysis? How do these stores, in close proximity to northern Chatham affect the economic analysis for this site?

WAL-MART

1. What are the annual gross sales of a Wal-Mart Supercenter?

2. What are the salaries and benefits packages for Wal-mart employees?

3. What fraction of employees actually receive fringe benefits?

4. What would the estimated Chatham County property tax revenue for this site be, after full build out?

5. What is the estimated sales tax revenue that Chatham County would receive?

6. What is the estimated loss to the County from any retail stores that are forced out of business?

7. Does Wal-Mart sell Viagra type drugs?

8. The issue of economic justice hasn’t been addressed. Does Chatham care about justice for Wal-Mart employees and their vendor employees?

9. Does Chatham First plan to fight Wal-Mart or are they going to fight any large (big box development) on this site?

10. If we are going to oppose a big box store at this location, what alternatives can be proposed for landowners so that we can avoid the “strip mall” type of development?

FACTOID: 220 proposed Wal-Marts have been blocked.

PLANNING AND ZONING

1. Since economic growth in Chatham County is inevitable, we need to plan for areas where Wal-Mart and future companies can be located. Once this is done, then we would have only one problem and not constantly one after another. What doesn’t the County designate an area closer to Rt 64?

2. Would this site require a Conditional Use Permit, in addition to re-zoning of the 42.9 acres?

3. Who hires the Engineers, etc. that do the impact studies? Doesn’t Chatham allow businesses, such as Wal-Mart, to hire their own professionals to do these studies? How is that impartial and for the good of the County? Why does the County rely solely on the developer’s studies which are clearly biased in favor of the developer and not the County?

4. The state Senate is considering two bills, #184 and #518, that would, if passed, put more restrictions on land use. Is the County familiar with these bills and their potential effect?

5. Lee-Moore Oil Company included a back up plan for this site in their traffic study. That plan included plans for 21 homes and a strip mall. Why doesn’t Chatham County put in a moratorium on development until a comprehensive plan is put into effect to avoid strip malls?

6. What has happened to the “node” idea in the Land Development Plan, where commercial development was to occur ONLY at major intersections and strip malls were to be avoided?

7. Why aren’t all commercial developments subject to Conditional Use Permits even when they are in a business district?

8. Why doesn’t the Planning Department do more to reflect what the citizens of Chatham want and focus less on what the developers want?

FACTOID: If the Conditional Use Permit option is exercised it is important to note that the time frame between the issuance of the public notice and the public hearing is only 2 weeks - this means that citizens have only 2 weeks to prepare expert testimony. Because a CUP is a quasi-judicial process, the Commissioners are only able to consider testimony given at the public hearing (not after). The importance of expert testimony given at the public hearing cannot be underestimated.

CONDITIONAL ZONING

1. Under a conditional zoning procedure, how do the detailed results of the meeting between the developers and the adjoining property owners get into public domain?

2. Since development affects the entire County, how would other concerned citizens be notified of this meeting?

3. Under this type of zoning, how would an error in judgment on the part of the Board of Commissioners be corrected, since it would remove the opportunity for any legal action?

WATERSHED AND 10/70 RULE

1.Considering the harmful effects of impermeable surfaces on the watershed, why is the County considering the 10/70 rule in this protected area of the watershed that drains into our drinking water supply?

2. Who initiated the consideration of a 10/70 Rule, especially in light of all the development already occurring in this area of the watershed?

3. Would existing and recently approved developments and their impervious surfaces count toward the impervious surface acreage allowed under the 10/70 Rule?

4.Under the proposed rules for Jordan Lake, this portion of Chatham draining into the upper arm of the lake will need to REDUCE the nutrient load by 35%.

Is that possible with all this development?
What will be the cost to the County to reduce to this level?
What are the restrictions that will be imposed on the farmers?
What will be the cost to the individual property owners?
Will this require a storm water fee to each property owner?
How does the 10/70 rule reduce this nutrient loading, considering all the “grandfathered” developments that already have impervious surfaces and run off?
Since everything flows into the lake, what is the TOTAL picture?

5. Since run off from a construction site is especially critical in the protection of the waterways, how will any requirements be enforced? Who is currently enforcing the excess sediment run off from farms and timber mining operations?

TRAFFIC

1. Is it just the sheer population numbers and the money people spend in a specific area that determines the percentages of traffic flow, north and south into an area?

2. Since Rt. 15/501 is an evacuation route for Shearon-Harris, in these days of Homeland Security, how will the increased traffic affect any speedy evacuation? Is this taken into account in the traffic studies?

 
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Initial meeting about potential Wal-Mart was a success
Mark Barroso is leading the Chatham First effort.
photo by Gene Galin


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