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Beating Back the "Box"

County Commission says no to new Wal-Mart.

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Cordova Wal-Mart shoppers can still save money and live better, if they choose, but they'll have to do so at two of the area's existing Wal-Mart stores.

This week, the County Commission rejected a plan for a new Wal-Mart Supercenter at the corner of Houston Levee and Macon roads. Area residents complained that infrastructure at the site would not support the store and that nearby Wal-Marts might close if the new store opened.

"Wal-Mart doesn't care about what they do to the community," said Brian Stephens, attorney for Citizens for Sustainable Growth, the group leading the fight against the big-box retailer. "We have to care."

The Land Use Control Board approved the store in July, and Chip Saliba, land-use controls manager for the joint county/city Office of Planning and Development, said there were a number of reasons why the board supported the plan.

The site already had been approved for commercial development up to 315,000 square feet and Wal-Mart's proposal would develop just more than half of that. Wal-Mart also offered to pay for full road improvements near the intersection.

"The board felt that Wal-Mart was creating less of an impact than what could potentially be developed there," Saliba said.

Dennis Alpert, corporate spokesperson for Wal-Mart, said Cordova's existing stores are over-shopped.

"[We're] trying to place a store in a neighborhood that needs it and where we're wanted," Alpert said. "Not everybody may want us, but a large segment of that population does."

Shelby County commissioner Steve Mulroy opposed the project, saying he thought a third Wal-Mart in the area would encourage further migration of people away from the core city.

"It's going to contribute to urban sprawl and all of the unhealthy tendencies we've had over the years that we're trying to reverse," Mulroy said. "On top of that, there has been overwhelming opposition by the neighbors."

Citizens for Sustainable Growth's Stephens agreed that a new Wal-Mart would contribute to urban sprawl.

"I think the real issue is whether or not we're going to build a sustainable community. Mayor Wharton has gone through a lot of trouble to produce the Sustainable Shelby Initiative, and this development flies in the face of it," Stephens said. "Are we going to build a community where people want to live, or are we going to continue to do what we've done in the past, which is allow uncontrolled development that hurts the people?"

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