Anti-Walmart protesters pack Oconomowoc City Hall meeting
Community group seeks 1,000 signatures opposing Pabst Farms development
City of Oconomowoc — About 80 to 90 people packed into the Oconomowoc Common Council chambers Tuesday night to express their dissatisfaction with a plan to build a Walmart Super Center and Sam's Club at Pabst Farms Town Centre.
Several community members spoke during the public comments segment of the meeting, raising concerns about Walmart's labor practices, the impact the retail giant could have on local businesses, and public safety.
Resident Jack Melvin said Walmart would be "the final nail in the coffin" for retailers already in Oconomowoc, such as Kmart and Aldi.
"There is a Walmart in Watertown. There is a Walmart in Delafield. So where are they drawing [business] from?" he asked.
Scott Chapman said he moved to Oconomowoc in 2008 because of the city's small-town feel.
"It is in our interest that you, the council, takes all the time necessary to listen to the voices of the community," he said.
Mayor James Daley told residents that the city has received no formal application for the proposed site yet, but their concerns were not falling on deaf ears.
Concerned citizens arrived at Tuesday night's meeting after leaving a rally organized by community group WalkAwayWalmart Inc. to protest the development, announced in May.
The rally kicked off a petition drive by the group, which hopes to collect 1,000 signatures in opposition to the retailer in the next three months.
"Personally, I don't think that gorgeous area should have a slimy store like Walmart that sells cheap Chinese junk," resident and attendee Sandra Perkins said about the plans.
Perkins said she suspected developers were more interested in their pocketbooks than what is good for the city.
"I think [Pabst Farms] would put a prison there if they thought they could get their money out of it," she said.
The 120-acre Town Centre at I-94 and Highway 67 was originally conceived in March 2008 to be occupied by upscale retailers and restaurants, with 62 acres set aside for anchor stores. Space was also set aside for 2,045 parking spaces.
"The pedestrian-friendly center will feature a dramatic mix of stores, restaurants and entertainment," according to Pabst Farms' website.
The development project was partially funded by taxpayers, who provided approximately $24 million in tax incremental financing to build connector roads and infrastructure for the mall site. Another $2.5 million was provided in tax breaks, and $17 million was provided to offset other costs.
Many community members at the WalkAway Walmart rally sneered at what they say developers promised to offer: "unique," "upscale" and "dramatic" storefronts.
"The people you are really cheating are the people who bought homes that wanted something unique," resident Bob Perkins said. "What is unique about Walmart?"
Pabst Farm officials have argued that, given the economy, it is impossible to attract the types of retailers once envisioned for the site. Walmart and Sam's Club will entice other businesses, the developer argues.
Paul Nass, a guest speaker at the rally, highlighted in his speech the "socio-economic" impact he believed Walmart could have on residents and local businesses.
Nass said that Walmart "muscled" into towns, pushing out small businesses and exploiting employees desperate for work.
"Walmart does not create jobs," he said. "They replace jobs."
Nass encouraged community members to donate to WalkAwayWalMart Inc. and learn more about "big-box" zoning laws that put restrictions on the development of mega-size retailers.
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