WAL-MART WOES: Most citizens push against retail developmentJan 26th, 2011 | By Michelle Provencher | Category: news
Voices from people who do not want a Wal-Mart in their backyard were heard loud and clear by Plaquemines Parish council members and the rest of the community as the impending shopping center was the topic of a SpringWood Estates Homeowners Association meeting last week.
This meeting, held on Jan. 18, was the first organized open forum for the public to comment on and inquire about the potential retail complex to be built in Belle Chasse.
The tone of the group varied, though only one opinion was represented at the microphone, those people who were vehemently against the project. Others who were avid supporters, and some who just wanted to get more information, were in attendance as well, but did not exercise the right to speak to the crowd.
“I’m neutral,” Mike Doyle, a Plaquemines Parish resident, said before the meeting started. “I’m here tonight to see the pros and cons. The negative would be the mom-and-pop businesses (going out of business). The positive would be the tax revenue. I don’t know if a Wal-Mart would be good or bad for Belle Chasse.”
“I think the development, the addition of a Wal-Mart, is actually a positive thing,” said Tracey Riley, after the meeting concluded.
While Realm Realty maintains that the center will create 400 jobs for the community and garner $4 million dollars in tax revenue for the parish by its third year, many residents and officials said they are worried about the negative repercussions of building such a large, chain store.
“I believe that 400 jobs is nothing to sneeze at,” Riley said. “In the spirit of free market capitalism, competition in the marketplace is healthy, it’s good. This community needs diverse products. I like the convenience, I like the options.”
Many concerned residents point to drainage issues caused by the projected 1,000-space parking lot, despite detention ponds built into the design. Some people challenge the effectiveness of the new access road drawn into the site plans to deter traffic at Belle Chasse’s busiest intersection. Others are opposed to the Wal-Mart in particular, for fear locally-owned shops will be put out of business by the giant retailer.
“I’m sympathetic to the issues brought forward,” Riley continued. “I hear there are problems; that should not necessarily ban progress in this community because these are fixable issues.”
Not everyone felt undecided or enthusiastic.
“I’m 100 percent against it,” said Chester Wallace, a resident of Plaquemines Parish for 40 years and audience member at last week’s meeting. “We’d lose the pharmacy, the florist, the jewelry shop.”
Plaquemines Parish Council member Keith Hinkley, District 2, kicked off the evening by explaining why he is adamantly opposed to a development of that size in Belle Chasse, before opening up a question-and-answer period for the audience.
“I have nothing to gain from this project,” Hinkley said. “It has nothing to do with competition, it’s about the quality of life.”
Several of the questions asked were specific to one person’s situation, while others were broader and encompassed the whole community, if not the whole parish.
One woman was in attendance on behalf of her daughter, who lives in the SpringWood subdivision.
The Belle Chasse YMCA is being built behind her daughter’s house, which is great for the community but not for her as the traffic on the street limits where her grandchildren can play, the woman said.
Now, with the potential addition of a Wal-Mart nearby, she asked how this will affect her daughter and her daughter’s family.
Another man said his home is about 150 feet away from where the shopping center’s truck loading dock will be. He asked what options he had.
Hinkley stressed that there are no final plans for the complex, and it is not “a done deal.”
Though citizen opinions peppered the spectrum of supportive and opposed, most agreed they desire a voice in the matter.
The councilman said he welcomes the community’s input, and would like to employ a Planned Unit Development (PUD) process.
According to Hinkley, PUD would allow the council to sit down with new developers at the drawing table, as well as allow public commentary, so unwanted establishments won’t “get jammed down our throats.”
The gathering began as a Home Owner’s Association meeting for the SpringWood subdivision, and evolved into an assembly of about 200 people.