Big Box Retail & Historic Resources Debate

After last Friday’s post, Hey Wal-Mart! Ever Hear of “Historic Significance”?, Missy left a great comment that I think, should spark a healthy debate between many of us. Here is her comment:

Allow me to counter that petitioning Wal-Mart is not going to stop the real problem, nor is it really fair to blame Wal-Mart. They are doing nothing illegal. If people were concerned about this issue or preserving the battlefield they should have done something before that land was zoned to allow commercial development or any large scale development. Just because what is being built there is not what people wanted is not a valid argument. Even if Wal-Mart is stopped, won’t save the battlefield. Who’s to say Target or Whole Foods or Giant won’t try to locate there instead. Also, I wonder how much of a buffer is needed around historic sites in order for their integrity to remain?

For debate, my response to the comment:

It’s true that the umbrella issue of the story is that any big box retailer or developer is capable of doing the same thing that Wal-Mart is doing in Orange County, VA. It is not illegal to build on that site since it is zoned commercially. And yes, the county should have rezoned the land to protect historic resources, especially a national battlefield. (Similarly, many National Parks are faced with encroachment issues).

However, I imagine that it would impossible to keep up to speed with rezoning and development at the same time. Therefore, I consider this issue to be about more than Wal-Mart. It is about corporate America and developers who feel that they can build anywhere and will not consider other options, or only pretending to consider options, pacifying the “little people”. Fighting the law or big business takes money, which is what such national retailers have, whereas the general population and local governments often do not have.

But, if we are to consider Wal-Mart: as one of the largest corporate retailers, they should assume some responsibility as a representation of how businesses operate. While some businesses are choosing to not follow Wal-Mart’s practices, many are because of the fact that Wal-Mart has been so successful. So, if Wal-Mart will build anywhere, then other businesses will build anywhere because that is how to be successful. And maybe Wal-Mart doesn’t want to be a model for American business, but when you get to the top, it’s hardly avoidable. The same goes for leaders, bosses, owners, oldest siblings, captains, etc. By rising to the top, you have automatically earned the position of a successful model. Just because it is not against the law, does not mean that practices should be overlooked. Change is necessary as society progresses.

And no, petitioning will not help initially, but a solution has to start somewhere. Someone has to take that first step. And sometimes petitions and small news articles are the only ways to get attention. If enough people voice their opinion and are proactive about change, then the small beginnings will have made a difference. If the town or county can stand up to Wal-Mart, then perhaps other businesses will shy around from that area because of the fact that a group actually said no to Wal-Mart and won.

Perhaps, the general population needs a better example on how to bring about change to business and the local government. Clearly, we need to promote rezoning and be proactive, rather than reactive towards protection of historic sites and resources. Any suggestions?

In regards to how much of a buffer is needed to protect historic sites: that seems like an unanswered question. My gut feeling would be the viewshed, but of course that is debatable.

And those are just my thoughts. Anyone else?