Citizens in Front Royal, Virginia, a town of 13,000 in the Shenandoah Valley, are organizing to block a 184,000-square-foot Wal-Mart superstore. The development is slated for 121-acre tract of flood plain land bordering the south fork of the Shenandoah River. In order to proceed, Wal-Mart must convince the town to re-zone the land from residential to commercial.
Residents have organized under the banner “Save Our Gateway” to fight the project. They have been distributing information about the impacts of big box development to residents and town officials. A planning commission meeting on the project in December was packed.
Opponents contend the development will inundate the area with traffic, burden public services, destroy the scenic rural character of the community, and harm the river.
Storm water runoff is a major concern. “From an environmental standpoint, parking lots rank among the most harmful land uses in any watershed,” notes Tom Schueler of the Center for Watershed Protection. Parking lot runoff contains high concentrations of phosphorous, nitrogen, trace metals, and hydrocarbons.
Wal-Mart has an especially bad reputation when it comes to complying with regulations governing storm water runoff. Legal action has been taken against the company in Connecticut, Texas, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Oklahoma for multiple violations of both the Clean Water Act and state laws. The Connecticut Attorney General described the violations in his state as “irresponsible and reprehensible.” They resulted in pesticides, fertilizers, and other pollutants entering several waterways, causing a “serious threat to water quality and public health.”
Another major concern is the impact the development will have on public services. A memo from the Front Royal Chief of Police concluded that the town would need to hire new officers to deal with the added volume of calls. The police chief in neighboring Woodstock described a Wal-Mart store there as a “nightmare” that dramatically increased his department’s workload.
The planning commission has scheduled a second hearing for mid April. Its recommendation will factor into a final vote by the town council expected in the next few months.