Lewis Center residents had few concerns about Walmart
In January 2000, the Walmart at 8659 state Route 23 in Northpointe Plaza, Lewis Center, held a grand opening and was embraced by a community.
That response was much different than the one the company received from Liberty Township residents three years later when it tried to build a Supercenter on Sawmill Parkway.
The old adage, “location, location, location” might apply.
Former Orange Township trustee Jim Agan said the difference likely had to do with the fact that the Lewis Center property had been zoned commercial and light industrial years before the store was built, so there were no homes nearby.
“The traffic and everything is going to bug people in a neighborhood more than it does in an industrial or commercial area,” Agan said, noting that the infrastructure to handle the traffic was in place before the Walmart was built.
Rob Riley, deputy engineer for Delaware County, said a 200,000-square-foot discount superstore the size of the Walmart would be estimated to produce more than 10,000 trips per day, and more than 900 in the afternoon peak hour.
The property that the Lewis Center Walmart sits on was zoned commercial and light industrial in December 1986, said Tom Farahay, the township's assistant zoning inspector.
Dick Gladman, township zoning inspector since 1986, said residents didn't have concerns about a Walmart.
“There was no square-footage restriction on that property at the time," he said. "(Real estate attorney) Charlie Vince had taken that through the zoning process years earlier before it was sold to Rich Solove."
Developer Richard Solove, now deceased, sold Walmart the property, which is managed by Casto, Farahay said.
There are now residential condos in the area, but they were built after the Walmart, Gladman said.
Before Walmart and the Meijer store on the other side of Route 23 opened, residents had to travel quite a distance to shop.
“There wasn't any commercial there until the businesses started going in, and the community liked that there would be places to shop,” Agan said.
Walmart is a good corporate neighbor, Orange Township officials said.
“I don't think we've ever had any problem with them. If something pops up out of the ordinary (Farahay) will give the manager a call and they take care of it right now,” Gladman said, noting that most of the businesses in Orange Township are good at doing that.
Jeff Stone, manager of the Walmart in Lewis Center, told ThisWeek that statewide in 2010, the company made $28.2 million in cash and in-kind contributions to local organizations.
“We have township cleanup days, (and Walmart) will provide trash bags,” Farahay said, “and when we had groundbreakings, they’ve given us some fancy shovels and stuff like that. So they always seem to cooperate and have a community interest.”
Agan said the township didn’t have a local grocer that might have felt threatened by the arrival of a large retailer, so that impact wasn’t a factor when the Walmart opened. He said the small shops in the area are specialty shops that tend to come and go.
“People do little novel start-up businesses … sometimes they fly and sometimes they don't,” Agan said, noting that large retailers such as Walmart serve the demographics of the community.
“The township's average age is in the 30s and that means they buy a lot of groceries, a lot of toys for the kids, and they want good schools and good parks. They're very active,” Agan said. “The store gets a lot of traffic and also supplies a lot of jobs.”
He said commercial development of any size is will bring with it the need for more services.
“There's shoplifting and the like, but the taxes the developments pay help support the schools and parks,” Agan said. “So, which do you want?”
Emergency services in Orange Township aren’t feeling taxed by Walmart, officials said.
In 2010, 33 of the 2,000 runs made by the Orange Township Fire Department were to Walmart, Fire Chief Tom Stewart said.
Of the fire runs, two were to the Subway that shares the same building, Stewart said; most were just responding to alarms.
“Walmart builds to the state fire code, so rarely — I don't want to say it would never happen — but rarely would there be any major fire or incident there that would cause us to put a lot of resources into a building like that because they meet our codes, they listen to us and work with us,” Stewart said.
Assistant Chief Matt Noble said when Walmart held a grand opening for its renovated store recently, the company donated $1,000 toward the department’s fire-prevention efforts.
“They are responsible corporate citizens with the way they build, engage in fire prevention and the way they share resources and make donations,” Noble said.
Likewise, Delaware County Sheriff Walter Davis said countywide in 2010, his office received 35,531 calls for service, of which 1.2 percent, or 426, where to the Walmart store in Orange Township. Of the 7,966 reports written in 2010, only 1.8 percent, or 144, were related to the Walmart store. Those included 79 reports of theft, 13 traffic stops and eight hit-skip reports, he said.