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Fighting the "Box"

Cordova residents speak out against the opening of a new Wal-Mart.



It's not that a group of Cordova residents doesn't like Wal-Mart. They do. But they still don't want a new super store to open in the area.

Last week, at a Cordova Leadership Council meeting, volunteers gathered signatures from citizens against the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter at the corner of Houston Levee and Macon roads. The new Wal-Mart would be the third in the Cordova area.

"If we are to support development to the east or north of us, it needs to be complementary to its surrounding area and not competitive to Germantown Parkway," Cordova Leadership Council president Gene Bryan said to the assembled group.

Bryan presented various arguments against the new store, including traffic problems.

"The roads serving this site are two-lane, non-regional roads — they're meant for local traffic — and those roads are now over capacity," Bryan said, adding that the site is less than a mile from Macon Hall Elementary School, and congestion could worsen school traffic.

Chip Saliba, manager of land-use controls at the joint city/county Office of Planning and Development, said the OPD opposed the development for similar reasons.

"Our primary concern is the inadequacy of the infrastructure in the area," Saliba said. "There's a two-lane roadway network out there, and we don't feel that [the roads can handle] adding that type of use, which we consider a regional draw."

Despite the objections, the Land Use Control Board approved Wal-Mart's proposal earlier this month after a revision to the original site plan included scaling back the size of the store and its parking lot, adding more greenery to the site, and increasing the distance between the store and adjacent properties. Perhaps the most important revision was Wal-Mart's offer to spend $2 million on road improvements at the intersection, which will include widening both Houston Levee and Macon roads 800 feet in both directions.

But Cordova residents also are concerned that the new store could cause the nearby Germantown Parkway Wal-Mart, which is also located in Cordova, to close.

"Look at Winchester, where we had a big-box store close. One closes, then the next one, and the next one. When you start having abandoned buildings, you have a whole list of safety concerns," Bryan said. "It'll destroy Germantown Parkway. It'll destroy the community. We must protect the stores we have."

Dennis Alpert, a corporate spokesperson for Wal-Mart, said that local customers have complained that lines are too long at the area's existing stores.

"Because of the growth in the area, Wal-Mart customers are underserved. The existing stores are overshopped and overcrowded," he said. "This is an opportunity to make it easier on our customers and alleviate foot traffic in other stores."

Wal-Mart has gathered 2,000 signatures from supporters of the new store and Alpert said it is rare for Wal-Mart to close a store unless it proves to be unsuccessful.

"When we open a store, we make a commitment to the community. Opening a new store does not mean that we will close another store in the area," Alpert said.

The project should go before the Shelby County Commission in early September.

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