Community Wall-To-Wall Over Walmart

Hundreds Attend Timberville Hearing

Posted: August 23, 2014

Residents of Timberville and surrounding areas from both sides of the debate on a proposed Walmart pack into the Plains District Community Center in Timberville to voice their opinions and concerns. (Photos by Jason Lenhart / DN-R)
Chipley Harris of Timberville shares her concerns before presenting more than 400 signatures of residents who do not support the Walmart.
Gary Biller of Singers Glen, whose mother lives in Timberville, shows his support for the Walmart.

TIMBERVILLE — So many people turned up to share their opinion on a proposed Timberville Walmart that a speaker was put outside for the more than 100 people who couldn’t get into the Plains District Community Center due to fire code.

More than 300 people from Timberville and other areas attended the public hearing that went late into Friday night, and dozens of them spoke after Wal-Mart representatives shared details of the proposed store on property bounded by New Market Road, South Main Street and American Legion Drive.

The hearing was a joint meeting between the Timberville Town Council and Planning Commission. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Quail Lane Farm LLC, which owns the property, submitted a rezoning request to the town on July 24.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart is seeking to build a 128,000-square-foot supercenter that would include a full grocery section, pharmacy, and fuel pumps.

No vote was taken Friday night, and it’s not clear when Town Council will make a decision on the proposal.

Its next meeting will be Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. at 392 S. Main St.

The public hearing was still going as of press time, but speakers were split over the issue.

Many in opposition to the store wore neon-colored “NO” stickers and complained of traffic and safety issues, especially with Plains Elementary School so close to the 16-acre site.

They warned of threats to small businesses, increased crime, light pollution, low-wage jobs, industrialization and abandonment if the company were to decide Timberville’s store wasn’t profitable enough.

Alice Hansberger said she was opposed to the store being so close to the school and that Walmart’s prices wouldn’t be as competitive as some people expected.

She’s heard stories of prices being lower at the Harrisonburg Walmart than the one in Luray, for example. The part-time jobs wouldn’t pay enough to “keep a family going,” she added.

“It’s sad,” she said. “We do need jobs, but this is not the answer.”

Many also urged the Town Council to postpone any decision-making until a study on how the Walmart would impact the community is conducted independently of the company.

But some residents said they were skeptical of the promises.

A couple of small business owners said they welcomed the competition and didn’t see the company as a threat because good customer service would retain the regulars.

But others said they feared it would be impossible to match Walmart’s prices.

“I myself welcome competition as long as we are on an even playing field,” said Joe Flory, owner of Timberville Tire and Auto. “How can I compete with Walmart when they sell a tire for $128 and my cost for the very same tire ... is $128.11, plus I have to pay a fuel charge. That, my friend, is not fair competition.”

Those in favor said an influx of jobs might keep their children and grandchildren in the small town, where they said there’s little employment opportunity.

“We’ve got a lot of jobs down here at these poultry plants, but I kind of wonder how many kids we’ve lost that don’t want to work in that,” resident Ronnie Stevenson said. “If we give them an opportunity to work in the Walmart ‘penitentiary,’ they can stay closer to home, get their education, work theirselves up in the community, and give ones that can’t stand pulling chicken guts an opportunity to make something out of themselves.”

The potential town and county revenue could go a long way to fixing town infrastructure, several speakers said.

They praised the convenience that a big-box department store like Walmart could bring to the town, where such a variety of low-price necessities is a 20-minute drive to Harrisonburg.

Having low prices closer to home would save them time and gas money and force existing stores, such as Food Lion, to compete, they said.

“The revenue it’ll bring in should pay for new water lines, new sewer lines,” said Mike Gray. “[A]lso, we need the competition. Right now, people that’s on a fixed income have to go to Walmart in Harrisonburg to get their groceries.”

Contact Kassondra Cloos at 574-6290 or kcloos@dnronline.com



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