Board Gets an Earful on Okemos Wal-Mart Expansion

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The Meridian Township Board held over Tuesday night's public comment session after taking in strongly-worded criticism and an extensive defense from Wal-Mart over expanding the retailer's Okemos store.

"We don't need that kind of neighbor in this town," township resident and labor advocate James Ramey said.

Ramey echoed the sentiment of many speaking out on Wal-Mart at the Meridian board meeting. He questions the business practices of the world's largest retailer.

"Wal-Mart's overall plan is to come in low, run 'em out and then raise their prices," Ramey said.

Others at the meeting raised concerns about more traffic and water runoff. But most focused on Wal-Mart itself. That's something the township board says can't really be taken into consideration.

The board's attorney says leaders can only judge the expansion permit on whether the Wal-Mart expansion would fit zoning requirements, requirements which deal with traffic, storm runoff, and whether the expansion is compatible with the surrounding area and the township's master plan.

A Wal-Mart spokesman says the planned expansion falls in line.

"All the criteria that have been laid out in the ordinance; we meet all those," spokesman Nick Infante said.

That point and many others were discussed at length by Wal-Mart before the board. In addition, the Arkansas-based retailer says a bigger Wal-Mart is what the community wants.

"Providing them with a groceries and produce option," Infante said.

Infante says the new "Super" Wal-Mart wouldn't hurt local grocery stores because so many Wal-Mart customers likely shop at the Wal-Mart Supercenters in St. Johns or Owosso for groceries.

A few members of the public did speak in favor of the plan. One was an employee of Wal-Mart. She says the company practices fair hiring and has paid her a decent wage.

But those who say they don't want a Super Wal-Mart say they hope the board took note of their views.

"You've heard the expression of the people. That should mean something to the township board," Ramey said.

The board will resume taking comment May 4. At that time, they'll decide when to vote on the special use permit needed to allow the expansion to go forward.