Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Wal-Mart in the sun ...

   In one battle of what should be called America's "Wal-Mart Wars," the retailer recently won a fight to open a new store in an affluent northeast suburb of Phoenix, after losing efforts to build in other areas of the Valley of the Sun.
   As I've written before, it makes little sense to try to redress through land use law many of the oft-heard complaints over Wal-Mart's practices, such as its crafty employment policies and their supposedly sharp dealings with suppliers.  Questions of labor and trade should be handled by labor law and trade law; the land use decision of a suburb of Phoenix is an ineffective way to legislate on these issues.
   The story from Arizona also exposes some curious quirks of the Wal-Mart wars.  Some of the quotations from a Wal-Mart opponent, reported in the Arizona Republic (and I know it's sometimes unfair to use quotes from one advocate to assess an entire movement), are quite revealing.  The opponent both complains that Wal-Mart won't offer anything that isn't already for sale in the massive malls of east Phoenix and then complains that existing stores won't be able to compete.  This is curious double argument often made about Wal-Mart - it's a lousy store and it will take away the customers from other stores.  But it can't really be both, can it?      
   A dilemma for Wal-Mart opponents in places such as Phoenix is that they can't fall back on the argument of preserving the Main Street retailers, as opponents can in, say, New England. Suburban Phoenix, like much of sunbelt America, already contains miles of miles of strip malls and big boxes.  So opponents are reduced to complaining, as the newspaper reports, about the supposed drawback of 24-hour traffic and bright lights.  Traffic and bright lights?  In metropolitan Phoenix?  Are we reaching a bit here?  Could it be that opponents in Paradise Valley simply don't like the idea of a Wal-Mart in their posh suburb?

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Your posting omits two serious land use issues created by the development of a WalMart store: traffic and stormwater management/wetlands damage. With 600 car parking lots that generate thousands of car trips per day, land use regulations should pay attention and limit the number of WalMart stores (and others like WalMart) in communities. Furthermore, the stormwater issue is a nightmare, and possible wetland impacts from stormwater run off is fertile ground for effective land use regulation. Whatever the motives of WalMart opponents are, land use plays a role in limiting the proliferation of big-box retail stores.

Domingos R. Santos Jr.
New England School of Law
154 Stuart Street
Boston, MA 02116
(617) 594-9138

Posted by: Dominic Santos | Apr 27, 2006 7:21:31 PM