Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Tale of Two Walmarts

Two Houston neighborhoods are unhappy with Walmart because of the retailer's plans to build stores nearby. One is in The Heights, and it has some residents fearing that small businesses won't be able to compete. As one told the Houston Press:
My fear is that if Walmart moved into this area, it would pose major competition to all of these places I love so much and force them into extinction.
Undoubtedly, Walmart will pose a competitive threat to many of the small stores in The Heights. But the voluntary choices of the store owners and consumers will determine which survive. If the stores offer products not found in Walmart, and consumers want to buy those products, they should have no problem.

Of course, there are those who don't want individuals to have such choices. The Chronicle reports that residents of The Heights met with city council last week with the intent of stopping the project through political force (my words, not the Chronicle's). Apparently, Heightsonians have less political clout than the home owners who oppose the Ashby High Rise--the city is considering tax breaks for the developer of the Walmart project.

A few miles to the west residents of Ashton Village are also upset about a proposed Walmart near their neighborhood. But they aren't trying to stop the retailer. According to KPRC:
"In contrast with trying to fight the Walmart, we really want to work with them to see what would be the best plan," Gilbert [a home owner] said.

Residents said they found out too late to stop Walmart from breaking ground on the site. Some are worried about property values, but admitted that their hands are tied.

"We really want to work with them to see what would benefit us all from them," resident Jesse Green said. 
I can certainly understand that the residents don't want excessive traffic flowing through their neighborhood. This is a legitimate concern, and from what I have read, Ashton Villagers are taking a proper approach. Rather than seeking political power to halt the project, they are voicing their concerns to Walmart with the intent of preventing a nuisance from developing.

Walmart has a right to use its property as it chooses. But it may not do so in a way that interferes with the prior use of other property owners. In this context, Walmart cannot use its property in such a way that it will interfere with the prior use of home owners in Ashton Village. For example, Walmart may not create so much traffic in the neighborhood that the residents cannot safely walk down the street.

I am not an expert on traffic flow and related issues, and I won't begin to claim that I know what specific criteria should be used to make such assessments. What is clear is that objective criteria--not arbitrary claims--must be used. It appears that the residents of Ashton Village are not resorting to the emotion driven pleas of those in The Heights, and for that they should be applauded.

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