Knightdale ponders Wal-Mart's reversal

Staff WriterMarch 5, 2008 

It might have been the slowing economy.

Or the delays caused by a gadfly community group.

But one thing's sure: mega-retailer Wal-Mart has shelved plans to build a 206,000-square-foot Supercenter in Knightdale, the town's mayor said Tuesday.

Mayor Russell Killen said the decision represented a million-dollar setback for Knightdale. The town's council approved a development that included the store in June 2006, but a community group filed suit to challenge the council's decision and had continued to appeal the suit's loss at the trial level.

"I think the delay changed its view of the economic prospects," Killen, who practices law in Raleigh, said Tuesday of Wal-Mart.

"If that lawsuit had not been filed, the store would have been up and built. For Knightdale, this is a huge financial loss."

However, Wal-Mart said last June that the company would reduce costs by opening 30 percent fewer new Supercenters in 2007 than planned.

Tara Stewart, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman, said Tuesday that projected profits from the Knightdale store weren't large enough for the company to build it, just as it won't complete scores of other projects nationally.

Wal-Mart followed the Knightdale lawsuit's progression and expected the city to win again on appeal, Stewart said.

"It had nothing to do with that as much as it did our internal decision-making," she said.

Stewart said she could not speculate on whether the store would have been built had the suit not been filed. In January, the chain announced it would not build a planned Supercenter in Southeast Raleigh.

"We're thrilled that they are not coming to Knightdale," said Rita Rakestraw, one of the leaders of the community group that opposed the store.

"They had no business putting a Super Wal-Mart so close to a residential neighborhood."

Killen said the town has spent about $100,000 defending the suit and would miss out on an additional $900,000 during a five-year period in expected Wal-Mart fees, permits and taxes.

In addition to a convenient retailer, Killen said, Knightdale could lose planned amenities including a greenway, a new fire station and a soccer park, which will have to be left undone or paid for with a tax increase.

The group CARE, for Citizens Against Residential Encroachment, maintained in its suit that the store would bring unwanted crime, traffic, noise pollution and lowered property values to Knightdale. Opponents also charged that the development contradicted the city's comprehensive plan.

John E. Allen, a 15-year town resident and CARE member, said Killen was overstating the negative effects of Wal-Mart's decision. There are plenty of other Supercenters within driving distance, Allen said, and possible tax increases for city services were under debate whether the retailer came or not.

"I'm sure he's going to paint as bleak a picture as he can," Allen said.

Thomas.Goldsmith@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-8929.

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