Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Wal-Mart, fighting to get into small towns … and big …

[The Wal-Mart wars, continued …]

Walmart    The latest battle in the Wal-Mart wars arises from Marvin, N.C., where the Union County Board of Adjustment approved a plan to build a new store, only to see that decision set aside by a state court judge, who found that late-stage changes to the plan required starting over the approval process.  Last week, Wal-Mart argued to a state appellate court that the changes were not significant enough to require re-doing the process.  According to the Charlotte Observer, opponents have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars opposing the plan; no doubt Wal-Mart has spent a similarly large amount.

   This is the kind of enormous battle that occurs in local governments all across the nation; often, a Wal-Mart battle is the biggest and most complicated decision a local government has ever made.  Sometimes, the issues overwhelm the capabilities of the local jurisdiction.  In the current North Carolina matter, the central County government opposes the Wal-Mart plan and is arguing against its own Board of Adjustment.

   Should such complicated matters of local decisionmaking be made through some higher-level form of government, such as through a multi-jurisdictional board or a state authority, which has the resources and ability to handle such matters well?  Then again, size of government does not necessarily mean that it handles Wal-Mart matters well.  The world’s largest retailer recently suffered defeats in its effort to open its first stores in New York City, through a process so expensive and time-consuming that Wal-Mart’s CEO was quoted as saying that it wasn’t worth the effort to try again.  The story was also interesting for its focus on labor unions (which of course oppose Wal-Mart’s employment policies and practices) as the chief antagonist of Wal-Mart.  I question the wisdom of government’s using labor concerns to make land use decisions.


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