Illustrating problems with big retail in Naperville: push for more landscaping but offer sales tax rebate

The response from the city of Naperville to a proposal for a new Walmart in the suburb illustrates some of the issues communities face when approving big retail stores:

Councilman Grant Wehrli said he would like to see the store follow the lead of nearby Costco and Whole Foods by going “above and beyond” the city’s landscaping requirements.

“I would love to have Walmart come in, but I’m concerned about the landscaping. What I would like to see done there is for Walmart to follow the lead of the other two developments, literally across the two streets, and go above and beyond with the landscaping. It’s relatively inexpensive and the benefit to society is massive,” Wehrli said. “If we go to the higher standard of landscaping, we’re not just going to be like the Walmart in Buffalo Grove. It’s going to take that intersection to a higher level.”…

Wal-Mart representative Aaron Matson called the timing of the request “eleventh-hour,” but said they were doing the best they can to address the concerns…

“If we’re not careful with what we’re asking for, they may decide to say, ‘Hey, let’s move right across the street (to Aurora),” Krause said…

Wal-Mart officials still hope to break ground this year on the store that has also been awarded a $1.75 rebate in sales tax revenues over 10 years.

Here is how I interpret this:

1. The community is concerned with how Walmart looks and how it fits in with the nearby Springbrook Forest Preserve. Naperville has its share of ugly retail stretches, notably Ogden Avenue east of Washington Street and Route 59 south of the Burlington Northern tracks. In order to present a nicer image befitting of a wealthier suburb, Walmart needs to add some landscaping and go beyond typical requirements. I am amused by the comparison to Buffalo Grove. According to the Walmart Store Locator, there is no Walmart in Buffalo Grove though there is one very close by in Wheeling. Regardless, Naperville doesn’t want to have any run of the mill Walmart; they want one that reflects Naperville and helps distinguish it on the higher end from other suburbs.

2. Yet, the city may not be able to push the landscaping requests too far because Walmart could still locate their new store in nearby Aurora. In other words, the city has to offer a sales tax rebate because it cannot pass up this revenue source. Naperville officials may be particularly attuned to this because Naperville has lost retail business to Aurora before. In one notable case, the developer for the Fox Valley Mall played Naperville and Aurora against each other in the early 1970s, Naperville was less willing to budge, and the mall was built just across Route 59 in Aurora.

Overall, the community needs the tax money Walmart generates but they also want the store to be presentable. Such are the tensions today regarding big box stores.

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