July 12 editorial
July 11, 2008
It has taken Summit County many years to learn how to say no to big-box developers. And that lesson has not been easy.
When local planners and commissioners were still new to the game, the county’s development code was riddled with legal loopholes allowing retail giants like Kmart and Wal-Mart to have their way at Kimball Junction. They were able to wear down local officials with promises of community amenities if approved or expensive lawsuits if denied.
Case in point: Snyderville Basin residents attended scores of public meetings to protest plans for a Kmart at the junction but commissioners said their hands were tied by prior approvals and they had to approve it. One resident even chained himself to a bulldozer as the land was scraped for a foundation, to no avail. Kmart opened, struggled to survive, and finally closed leaving an empty eyesore.
But that was then and this is now. The Summit County Commission and the county’s legal advisors, we hope, have tightened their hold on the reins. They have, in fact, forced several regional retailers like Smith’s and Albertsons to scale down their one-size-fits-all behemoths in favor of smaller neighborhood models.
But now they are facing the baddest big box of them all Wal-Mart — and the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission has already caved.
Sorry guys, allowing Wal-Mart to expand from 72,000 to 115,758 square feet does not represent the will of your constituents.
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Wal-Mart has a reputation for crushing locally owned businesses, for importing goods of questionable quality, for exploiting employees and generally strong arming community planning boards. They haven’t done much to counter that image here in Summit County. It would be a shame to reward that kind of behavior with permission to do it on an even bigger scale. This is especially true when giving Wal-Mart a green flag to go into the grocery business could put nearby established groceries out of business.
Just as importantly, allowing Wal-Mart to break the square-foot barrier at Kimball Junction could jeopardize all of the painstaking negotiations to limit the size of other retailers. Imagine the lineup of lawyers representing previous developers who were told to lower their arches, shrink their footprint and dim the neon.
But the battle is not yet lost. The Summit County Board of Commissioners can overturn the Planning Commission’s approval. In fact, we are counting on them to saddle up their white horses and do just that.
The county’s planning staff said Wal-Mart offered to clean up the parking lot and spiff up their aging edifice if they get their approval.
Gee, what a nice offer. How about demanding that they take better care of the square feet they have and become better corporate citizens before asking for favors.
To let the Summit County Commissioners know how you feel about this issue, call 615-3220 or email them at email@example.com