Is there a way to make Wal-Mart viable in Caledonia?

Columnist, Jay Warner, says yes.

What a month!  I’m just about to settle down to watch spring arrive, when Wal-Mart proposes to build a “small” store near Highway 31 and 4 Mile Road, on a parcel zoned “low density residential.”  This would dramatically change Caledonia.  People filled a Board meeting, a few hundred people came to an informational meeting hosted by Wal-Mart, an information filled web site appeared, a Facebook page aired opinions, and Caledoniapatch.com posted long discussions.  Plus a write-in effort appeared.

Putting on my “I love Caledonia” hat, I see two major points of issue, the location Wal-Mart proposes, and the need for tax revenue.  Unless you like high drama confrontations (including the possibility of losing everything), we need to find a lower stress solution.

The proposed development location

The site fits Wal-Mart’s business criteria; does it fit our community goals?  No. The site is clearly zoned low density residential in the Village of Caledonia Land Use Plan, and the area on the map is allowed no non-residential, commercial uses.[1]  Discarding the zoning, which a change from low density residential to commercial would do, tells every homeowner in Caledonia that their home and neighborhood can be upended whenever a corporation decides.  Without that zoning, our home values are not “safe.”  We each need security in our homes, for the next 10 to 30 years.

Village tax revenue

Village revenues (mostly taxes) have been restricted in years past, and we all know that state contributions to Caledonia Village are declining, so expect a smaller budget for next year.  A call to “reduce waste,” and “find efficiencies,” won’t be enough.  The Village Board must reduce services, and it will hurt. 

Wal-Mart is a potential revenue source. At least two other recent proposals for development have been discussed recently, so Wal-Mart is not the only option.  For each possible development, we, and the Village Board must ask if the revenue (tax income) is worth more than the effects of the changes we’ll have to make, and we have to think on a 30-year timeframe. Fiscal facts:  The 2011 budget for Village operations is $10.7 million.  The annual tax revenue for the Village expected from Wal-Mart is about $70,000 per year.

Can we keep Caledonia “rural” and have development?  I say yes!

Wal-Mart wants 19 acres (a square of land 910 feet on a side), with 40% green space, where the present owners are willing to sell. It must be about half way between Sturtevant and South Milwaukee, on a 'trunk' road. The broker said he did not find a site along Douglas Avenue, where it is already zoned commercial.  The west side of Douglas has a railroad track; the east side open areas have unbuildable wetlands.

Wal-Mart claims they are flexible.  Could they make a park on the unbuildable land and count that as the 40% green space?  Could they adjust the shape of the lot and grow into our commercial corridor instead of tearing apart our residences?  Speaking of growing, all our yards are sprouting now.  If the Wal-Mart people visited, perhaps they would see why we value our community so highly, and how they could fit into it.

I am convinced that our connection with developers is not simply to roll over and take whatever they give us.  It is, after all, our community.  What are some ways that Wal-Mart and we get what we all need?  If we shred the Land Use Plan, every homeowner in Caledonia will lose. 


[1] LAND USE PLAN MAP TABLE, pg. 22, 31, doc: 2B_Text_111306.pdf

San April 24, 2011 at 03:46 PM
the picture in burlington is not as rosy as you state, and the downtown has some serious problems at this point. and the fact that you can locate "one" community that somehow succeeded, even if that were in fact the case, does not change the fact that there are thousands that have failed and paid the price.....the odds are against this kind of development being of benefit to us by a long stretch. we have a better chance of being hit by lightning than winning this "game".
San April 24, 2011 at 03:53 PM
one approach communities are taking is to have any developer asking for a zoning change that conflicts with a land use plan that is in place, to provide a third party, independent economic and environmental impact study, done at developer cost, but chosen by the Village board from bona fide experts in the field who are not in the pocket of either pro- or anti-development forces, but who are professional planners with the requisite expertise. Such an approach takes it out of anecdotal examples, or simply poorly conceived notions developed by people who have no expertise in the complexity of civic planning and its multiple impacts. This type of report typically looks at potential revenues versus costs, as well as offsetting impacts both positive and negative on local community, other businesses, employment base, environmental concerns, and provides an analysis upon which to base decisions using the expertise and drawing on the ability to view large numbers of development plans nationally of the professional planning firm.
San April 24, 2011 at 03:58 PM
the fact that walmart has determined there is a sufficient consumer base within their proposed 3 mile radius also provides support for the idea that a well developed "main street" concept meeting the interests and needs of the community would in fact provide sufficient business opportunity for main street businesses. The current state of Douglas Ave is not a great draw, but the whole purpose of planning and encouraging specific types of development is to help transform that area into a vibrant one, rather than letting it slip into decay and urban blight, which in the long run further harms the community.
San April 24, 2011 at 04:10 PM
Burlington facts: The unemployment rate in Burlington is 9.00 percent((2010 rate)). Recent job growth is Negative. Burlington jobs have Decreased by 5.62 percent. At the same time Caledonia unemployment rate averaged 4.5% and has now gone down to 3.7 to 3.8%. So maybe the "walmart effect" is harming local jobs and businesses in Burlington..... the MIL rate is substantially higher than in Caledonia: The City tax rate in 2010 was $7.5822 It is clear that if you go for development of this sort, as Burlington has, you wind up paying more taxes, and having higher unemployment. Same picture as in Mt. Pleasant, Racine and oak Creek by the way. There is no free lunch here, and those who think they found it wind up paying more once the real facts come to light.
Brian Dey April 24, 2011 at 05:14 PM
That is part of the process in Caledonia as far as an environmental impact study. As far as the communities you mentioned, each have a significant TID development philosophy and in the case of Oak Creek, off far more services than Caledonia, i.e. rec programs, a library, schools, a real community center, etc...
San April 24, 2011 at 05:24 PM
we should add an economic impact study as well so we don't make decisions on assumptions of positive income that turn out to be incorrect.... the idea of re-developing and invigorating our main street, rather than adding to urban sprawl (at a huge cost) is clearly one that civic planners are embracing as a more fruitful and cash flow positive approach. As a bedroom community, surrounded by enormous shopping and other facilities, we do not need to duplicate what is available in every direction nearby; nor should we want to. NOR do we want to have the tax base and issues that those communities have....we need to examine why we believe that we have to copy the other communities who are struggling with the issues of development. We can use the shopping and library facilities available nearby, and develop our own unique approach that suits our unique position as a low density residential area....big box is NOT an advantage financially to the community, so why does that seem to be the solution that has to be pushed? it is NOT a SOLUTION, it is more of the problem. The vast majority of communities who go after development of this sort wind up with big tax bills and the problems of development in the form of crime, noise, pollution, tension and stress (which leads to health problems and costs) and a deterioration of the main street and its social and economic costs, higher unemployment, etc. I still have not seen any ADVANTAGES to our community to this proposal....
San April 24, 2011 at 05:57 PM
let's try to keep comparisons on the same page...schools have a separate budget and tax rate in all these communities. we also have schools, but we are part of RUSD. You may not like that fact, and you may want to change it, and if the community so desires, that certainly could be an agenda item. But you cannot compare the general fund budget and mil rate from one place to another and then throw in "schools" as something they have which we don't. it is hard enough to do reasonable planning without a lot of confusion and misconceptions entering in through inadvertent mixing up of different budgets in the same discussion.
Brian Dey April 24, 2011 at 06:16 PM
Actually, the schools go to the cost of additional services. We don't have a comprehensive middle or high school, which in turn leads to a necessity for more police which are a cost to the municipality. Each municipality has circumstances that are very different from another. We have no urban so how would this contribute to urban sprawl. Do go out and seek your main street businesses would necessitate a Village Planner dedicated to attracting business. There is no money for that. Like I said, your utopian ideas are wonderful but not practical. I feel comfortable with our village to do the right thing for the entire community and that they will take all factors into consideration. What I don't feel comfortable is pipe dreams. No offense, but not one person has offered a real alternative to solving the fiscal crisis facing the village.
San April 24, 2011 at 06:35 PM
i do not take offense to your opinion. I have however frequently pointed out that big box stores and fast food development generally around the country wind up costing communities MORE in their general budget than the revenue they bring in, so with all due respect, your "solution" is not a "real alternative to solving the fiscal crisis facing the village" at all either. Since your solution is not a solution, spending energy focusing on that is probably distracting from the alternatives that we need to locate. The good news is, numerous studies, and villages around the country before us, have given us a pretty good idea of what kind of development WORKS and what kind does NOT. Thus, we could begin to work on the things that work. Everywhere else you have pointed to they have higher mil rates. We could of course simply match the higher mil rate of another community and keep our relaxed safe and quiet rural environment without bringing upon us all the negatives that come with development, and that would of course more than cure the shortfall, as the other communities you point to have $1 to $2 per $1000 higher general village tax rates. We could also look at shared services such as police services to get economies of scale with either the county or nearby communities to effect savings for both. There are many things other than the ONE thing that has NEGATIVE effect on the budget plus NEGATIVE effects on the community in terms of crime, congestion, noise, pollution
San April 24, 2011 at 06:53 PM
what you are basically proposing is the definition of urban sprawl. walmart and fast food restaurants starting to develop in a community, drawing even more support away from main street, leading to further abandonment, blight and loss of local businesses and jobs. once development starts, it justifies itself to do more as the budget holes never actually get fixed, and people always propose the same (wrong) development model to fix budget holes although that is rarely if ever the case. Thus, more development results next to the other development, congestion builds up, the property values that were supportive of low density residential go down as a result of declining quality of life, this leads to changes to bring in high density residential, and "voila" you have urban sprawl. This pattern has been repeated in hundreds or even thousands of communities around the country and this is the way it generally always starts. make no mistake, if you open up this pandora's box, you will find some day that this is no longer a community you want to live in because it is too crowded, too noisy, too polluted, too crime-ridden, and has lost its unique residential value. How do i know? Because this happens just about everywhere once they start down this line of approach. Since it does not fix the budget problem, why start down this road at all?
ms April 24, 2011 at 10:43 PM
Brian, I found a couple of Wal-Mart studies, http://www.tcnj.edu/~business/economics/documents/kababikthesis.pdf "The paper concludes that Wal‐Mart store openings raise growth in the tax base in the municipalities they enter about 1.5 percentage points in the first year and 1.2 percentage points in the subsequent year. For adjacent municipalities, there is no immediate effect on the tax base, but after a year the tax base grows 1.8 percentage points faster." and http://www.econ.umn.edu/~holmes/papers/diffusion_walmart_revision_july2009.pdf
San April 24, 2011 at 11:03 PM
Of course tax base goes up as they put up a building. The issue however is that the costs are higher than the tax revenue to the villages so ot is a net loss
screwprogress April 25, 2011 at 01:29 AM
San, you continue to mention "Main St" as if such an entity exists in Caledonia. Douglas Avenue could hardly be considered Main St. I have lived and worked in Caledonia long prior to the Pick and Save and K-Mart being built. I'm sure similiar concerns as yours existed then but also failed to materialize. Farm fields were paved, traffic increased, additional professional and residential development occurred. Yet here we are nearly 20 years later and your worried that suddenly we will lose our rural identity. Perhaps if opinions such as yours had prevailed then we would not be concerned with the impact that a Walmart would have on these businesses. Face it, most Caledonians don't live in the rural utopia you strive to maintain but in higher density subdivisions and housing developments. Caledonia will remain largely undeveloped and rural long after , should Walmart build here.
San April 25, 2011 at 07:46 AM
in blog posts we use "shorthand". everyone has written at length about Douglas being the primary business zone in the land use plan, and that there are empty buildings and issues with the strength of the current businesses there. the shorthand statement is "main street". Sorry if this was confusing to you. I am well aware of the current state of Douglas, but that does not mean that it is not in fact a perfect area to build up and strengthen rather than abandon it, weaken it further, and create a permanent state of blight there. Long term planning has been done, and the purpose of such long term planning is to carry out the plan rather than abandon it every time someone comes along with a new idea. I am simply taking the position that we carry out the long term planning and not drop non-conforming uses willy-nilly into town based on some big corporation's private vested interests, particularly when we are going to have to subsidize the development with costs that exceed our tax revenues in all likelihood, because of the added police and road maintenance costs that come along with big box and fast food development. There is no rationale for such development if the goal is to fill the budget deficit, because it will likely INCREASE the budget deficit due to the higher costs versus revenue ratios that result. No one has given me any reason why we should pay more taxes to get this done, and take in the other disadvantages to the community that come with it.
San April 25, 2011 at 07:59 AM
there is a reasonably good start to a shopping district already in core at Douglas by the way. the statements i have read from some who say there is no real access to shopping may not do justice to the area. The Ace Hardware is a very well stocked "general" store. There is a garden center (Milaegers). In addition to gas stations, there is a grocery (Pick & Save), a drugstore (Walgreens), a "big box" (KMart-which people have indicated is a weak store but is still there at this time), various restaurants from fast food (McDonalds) to chinese, to cafe's, pizza, breakfast restaurants and even a coffee/espresso cafe. A nursery (Waynes Daughters), walk in clinic (Wheaton Franciscan), physical therapy, chiropractic and a number of other businesses including Racine Tire, at least 4 banks, and a convenient post office on 4 mile right near the intersection. This provides a good core that could be built on to meet just about anyone's need for "instant" shopping on the north side. I am wondering whether people are really aware of the selection of goods & services available right there.
San April 25, 2011 at 08:35 AM
i have gone through these two "studies". The first one does not address the factor of increased costs to "support" or 'subsidize" the walmart in a community, and thus, does not answer the issue that has been raised. The construction of the Walmart, followed by outlying stores increases tax base, of course because it represents a high relative percentage of total tax base in many communities. But if costs increase for the village more than the tax revenue that is yielded from the tax base increase, it means tax RATES have to go up to pay for it. In other words, everyone pays MORE taxes to subsidize the costs of the Walmart and its outlying neighbors. The second study is entirely about the benefit to WALMART to put stores into areas to essentially win the competition with other stores. Because it shows a "cannibalization rate" of about 1% from other walmart stores nearby, that means that 99% of the business is actually being taken away from competitors, thus weakening other local stores, which means that this study makes it clear that other local businesses would be clearly harmed. It is a perfect example of why we might NOT want a walmart here. It does nothing to show any benefit whatever to a local village and its tax revenue versus cost ratios.
patchreader 123 April 25, 2011 at 01:07 PM
the residents of the retirement community, located just north of kmart, find the areas to be very convenient. they walk to kmart and pick/save for their respective merchandise and grocery needs, walk to the douglas ave diner for a meal, walk to the W/F clinic for their medical needs, and then walk to walgreens for prescriptions.
patchreader 123 April 25, 2011 at 01:16 PM
a walmart located just a mile west would likely have an adverse affect on the area. i personally spoke with the owner of the douglas ave diner and with the manager of the block-buster video store. they realize that a majority of their business comes from those same shoppers that frequent the kmart and pick/save. they are thus worried that a shopping center, located just under a mile west at 4mi/31, would cause this shopping center (4 mi/douglas) to "die." if kmart and/or pick/save close(s), they are worried that they may have to close thereafter because of the reduction in their own businesses. wouldn't it be better to further support this shopping district than to gut it?
patchreader 123 April 25, 2011 at 01:19 PM
the infrastructure is already there. i agree with san and jay warner that perhaps durther directing efforts to support and perhaps revitalize the 4mi/douglas area may make more fiscal sense.
patchreader 123 April 25, 2011 at 01:25 PM
Hi Brian. Thanks for your response re: UW. Just found it sandwiched in w/ the other comments. I'm going to look into it further as well.
San April 25, 2011 at 02:38 PM
I guess it is easier to "label" a suggestion than to dig into the issues. trying to dismiss the issues as "utopian" does not solve the Village's problem. The "proposal" you are supporting which i will call the "walmart/fast food solution" does not in fact solve the village budget deficit. First, it takes a couple of years before any new tax base hits the assessment rolls. Second, even if it were "pure income" without any cost, according to Mr. Lebac's report to the Village Board, it only provides about $70,000 of revenue when fully built out. But of course there ARE costs, such as added police, road maintenance etc. Studies around the country in fact show that big box and fast food are NEGATIVE contributors (they cost more than they bring in) to local villages in most cases, and thus, would deepen the hole, not solve the crisis. I guess we could call this approach the "tooth fairy" approach if you want to call my PRACTICAL review "utopian" in order to dismiss it. But we all know, there is no free lunch and unless someone pays, the tooth fairy does not leave money under the pillow. Even if this development WERE to contribute positively, however, it does not come close to closing up the deficit...so what is the REST of the agenda? I have speculated that it is a massive development plan which will lower residential property values & quality of life.....but you can tell me what you think it is.
San April 25, 2011 at 02:44 PM
i understand the framework of caledonia's development to date, and have never once indicated that it is all rural or "utopia". you are either confusing me with someone else, or else, trying to put words in my mouth. In either case, this does not address the issues. The reason we are seeking development, allegedly, is to overcome a budget deficit of the village. However, Walmart/fast food will not accomplish that nor solve our budget deficit, so why then do we need to do that? It is more likely it will detract from some long-term positive ways to develop the community that could eventually solve the budget deficit. Thus, it makes things worse, not better. There are no "overnight" solutions in any case, but we should at least try to understand the long-term planning that was done that gives us a direction that has a better chance of success than the walmart/fast food "answer" which has shown across the country to fail to solve village budget crises. There are real opportunities to develop low and medium density residential which is the only form of residential that actually has a net positive impact on village budgets based on the study i referred to earlier. High density costs more than it brings in due to services that need to be provided. Whatever we have now, we have to look to the future to determine how to solve the budget not try to dismiss things by labeling them.
screwprogress April 25, 2011 at 06:14 PM
I am agreement that that Douglas corridor needs revitalization- however one thing it lacks is readily available land. Patchreader - The infrastructure that exists at 4 Mile and Douglas also exists at 4 mile and Hwy 31, with Hwy 31 slated for 4 lanes into Milwaukee County. The reality is that development there does make sense. While I support the businessess mentioned in your posts. Do we obstruct any further development to Caledonia to protect them? Did we deny Honey Bee II opening to protect the diner? The senior housing and clinic were built because of K-mart and Pick and Save. Block buster is failing because of a poor business model and not because of the threat of Walmart.Walmart/ fast food also coexists with other venues the world over.Walmart and Kmart both exist together on the southside- along with a Milaegers. Perhaps with additional development in the area, business could increase, as shoppers could conduct their shopping in a relatively small geographic area.
patchreader 123 April 25, 2011 at 06:53 PM
sp: you make some good points. however, the opening of the honey b II (good breakfast food, by the way), although a competing restaurant, is not likely to kill the 4m/douglas shopping center as would another shopping center located less than a mile away. perhaps the douglas ave diner would remain in business, but the owner said much of his business comes from patrons of the shopping center itself (i.e., kmart, pick/save). yes, bb video is suffereing from an extinct business model. however, so long as the 4mi/douglas shopping center remains alive, perhaps another vendor would more readily move into the bb video property should it go under. such is surely not the case if the shopping center dies. also there is public transportation (a bus line) to this shopping center, and no bus line to 4m/31. how much will the extra bus line to 31/4 mi cost?
patchreader 123 April 25, 2011 at 06:53 PM
as recommended by san, perhaps a non-biased, economic evaluation is probably the most sensible thing to do to determine the effect of any 4m/31 shopping center on the local economy. also, perhaps a more detailed study of vacant , commercially-zoned properties up and down 32 is in order? lets see exactly what we have to work with before upsetting residential zoning at 4m/31 and displacing the loca residents there. 4mi/31 is slated for four lanes only if supported by increased traffic counts. seems 38 is scheduled to open into 4 lane into milwaukee county (via oak creek) before 31 does, which would likely reduce any traffic count on 31. http://www.journaltimes.com/news/local/article_c85b007a-6754-11e0-be93-001cc4c03286.html?mode=story the 794 extension issue remains a fiscal pipe dream. which brings up another issue. walmart appears to hedge its bets on the 794 extension connecting to 31. in view of the impending 4 lane expansion of 38, maybe 794 will end up connecting to 38 instead. if this is the case, and walmart is built, but NOT supported by adequate traffic flow, will walmart abandon the store thereafter? history would seem to affirm this.
San April 25, 2011 at 06:54 PM
why is it that no one answers the question about the COST to the Village budget of this kind of development being HIGHER than the revenues they would pay to the Village? Do we as a community want to pay HIGHER taxes to subsidize Walmart and fast food jungles? This does not solve the budget crisis, but makes it worse. And it has other downsides that are easily seen if one takes the time to actually review the numerous studies that show the impact of this kind of development. The fact that it has occurred all over the country is not a justification when one sees the results elsewhere being higher tax rates, lower quality of life.. And we have the Root River watershed to worry about at the Highway 31 and 4 mile intersection..... Highway 31 is a good NON CONGESTED way for our BEDROOM community to effectively deliver our citizens to their jobs quickly. If we CONGEST it then we harm the value of the bedroom community long term.
patchreader 123 April 25, 2011 at 07:18 PM
san: good point. muskego residents had similar concerns before the walmart that opened there see below quotes from related RJT blogs: "I'm dreading the opening. My drive from my house just south on Moorland Rd. of Janesville to the freeway went from 5-7 minutes to upwards of 10-15 in the morning with the additions of the roundabouts and that stoplight at Wal-Mart/GE. I assume it will go to upwards of 15- 20 very soon. Currently the stoplight at that intersection changes even when there are people in the right turn lane, not in need of a green light to go, something that hopefully they adjust as soon as possible when it's in business. Having a stoplight every 500 yards is kind of ridiculous when the road's speed limit is posted at 50mph." "The city plan for 2020 was to protect the integrity of the outdoors integrated with quick access to urban life. Wal Mart takes the city off the path. How could our elected officials lose sight of how beautiful Muskego was -- and import an urban environment that conflicts with its own strategic goals? Stay tuned for lots of concrete and traffic, fewer trees and higher crime." i could be wrong, but i think the muskego mill rate is about $16.00/1000 (year 2010), not including sewer.
ms April 26, 2011 at 02:00 AM
san, I have not decided if a shopping center is a benefit or not yet, or if the proposed locatioon is right. I try to find studies based on facts to help my decision. I am trying to make an economical decision that is best for Caledonia. The diffusion study seems to show that there would only be a modest gain in jobs. Makes sense to me, the shoppers have not increased so to keep costs the same the number of workers needs to be about the same. I think the stores around hwy 11 & 31 would be the most affected by this. It seemed to indicate that local business not in direct competition would see an increase in business. Again, seems right. If people stay to shop the big box, they may frequent the small stores. I am undecided how it would affect K-Mart. Would there be added traffic or not. They do offer some things the Wal-Mart does not. So many questions still to be answered.
San April 26, 2011 at 10:28 AM
you make good points. the diffusion study makes it clear that Walmart places its stores to not cannibalize more than 1% from their other nearby stores. That would imply that their store near 11 and 31 would see very little cannibalization, and likely similar for other stores in that vicinity as well. there are OTHER studies however that show that when a walmart moves into an area, that within 1-2 years that area loses on average round 4 small and 1 medium local business. These studies would imply that stores in the immediate "zone of influence of 3-5 miles would be negatively affected. Those same studies show that there is a short term gain of jobs as Walmart comes in, but over 4-5 years this becomes flattened out again as the other businesses affected shed jobs. Because Caledonia already has such a low unemployment rate compared to anywhere close by, most of the jobs that Walmart "creates" would go to people from outside Caledonia but likely if local businesses close or scale back over a few years time, they would lose jobs for Caledonia residents. There are yet OTHER studies which show that shopping centers and fast food cost local governments more than they bring in to the Village due to increased costs for public safety (police) and road maintenance due to stress due to high traffic counts. Thus, these are considered "negataive" for fixing budget deficits and there are other types of development that are positive.
San April 26, 2011 at 01:41 PM
After your comment about "looking to Burlington" i was intrigued to see the following article in the journal times today: http://www.journaltimes.com/news/local/article_566ecd26-6f73-11e0-9fb2-001cc4c002e0.html About how Burlington, to deal with a budget shortfall, is examining the future of maintaining its own police department or not....So all is not well in terms of the budget in "chocolate-ville" either......even though they have a substantially higher "MIL RATE" than Caledonia has...


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