Sunday, July 15, 2007

Progress


July 15, 2007

When does the Fairhope Walmart open? Ah, that is the question.

About ten years ago I was on the Fairhope Historic Preservation Committee. I've mentioned this before on the blog.

Our purpose in those days was to celebrate the history of Fairhope and preserve its look of early 20th Century America. We created a tour of homes, showcasing the cottages that once exemplified Fairhope's early days. We saw change coming, but all the new people professed to love the little bungalows and the charm of the patchwork nature of the streetscapes. Some of us remembered the days when all the streets were not paved and children played in the gulleys in their many spare hours.

We found the preservation of the houses and old buildings themselves a hard sell with the business community of Fairhope, so we vowed to elect a mayor who was sensitive to Fairhope's past and try to get a few of our own members on the city council.

This did come to pass in the mid 1990's. A long-term Comprehensive City Plan was devised with the help of consultants, and a historic preservation ordinance was presented to the mayor who promised to help us get it passed. It was in the Comprehensive Plan that the city would be zoned to encourage neighborhood stores and no "big-box" stores would be built within the city limits. All this was considered a coup for our side, creating a small town of walkers, getting exercise in the fresh air and not impinged upon by the dreaded Wal-Marts and other chains. Ultimately all these good intentions came to naught.

The Historic Preservation Ordinance was cast into the wastebin as soon as the mayor heard a few objections. Cottages were demolished and replaced by very large, very expensive homes, almost all designed by the same local architectural firm, and all looking very much alike -- way too big for the lots on which they sat, very imposing and designed (totally unlike the Fairhope equalizing philosophy) to impress the neighbors and the world at large.

By the time the new Walmart was announced, just outside the city limits, a few people, maybe as many as a hundred, picketed with homemade signs announcing "No Walmart in Fairhope" and a great deal of media coverage accompanied them. Technically they didn't have a leg to stand on since the Walmart was not actually "in" Fairhope. A Sam's Club was on the way up in nearby Loxley, and another Walmart is slated to be built in Robertsdale, which will certainly meet with a warmer reception than the one here.

The most hits I get on this blog these days come from the search words "When does Fairhope Walmart open?" I can report that I don't know exactly when it will open. It hasn't been in the newspapers (or on television) yet. But I've been out to the site to snap the photo above, which shows the building completed and a lot of activity therein.

I am not against this development any more than I am "for" it. I don't much like Walmart, and don't frequent the one in nearby Daphne, but I have no doubt this one will have a lot of traffic and that most locals will be pleased to have it so convenient. It's not one of my causes, as historic preservation was. It's just a fact of life. And it will be a fact of Fairhope life any day now.

2 comments:

Bert said...

As I sit and type this, I'm looking out my office window at the bowling alley. There used to be nothing but desert for half a mile, till you got to the Middle School. Now there's a brand New Super Target, scheduled to open on 7-29-07. Progress is hitting us very hard. Down the block on our side of the highway is another shopping center, with a regular sized Wal*Mart.

Apple Valley has another set of competing shopping centers, with a Home Depot directly across the street from a Lowe's Home Center.

I have no opinions about how or why Apple Valley has suddenly blossomed but it's done wonders for our equity.

John Sweden said...

Should have opened an IKEA.