Rockton neighborhood doesn't want Wal-Mart in back yard

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-111825071911138.jpg’, ‘Photo by Melissa Wangall’, ‘Subdivision residents voice worries over commercial construction.’);

ROCKTON—Rockton’s Kensington subdivision should now know if a planned Wal-Mart will lie near its boundaries.

The Rockton Village Board was to vote June 7 on whether to annex 33 acres of land primed for construction of a Wal-Mart about a half mile from Kensington subdivision and 156 acres of land adjacent to the subdivision. Results of the vote were not available at press time. Zoning regulations were also to be voted on.

Kensington residents are not happy with the proposed plan to have a Wal-Mart built on the site as early as April 2006. Residents said they feel “duped,” and many insist they would not have purchased property knowing commercial zones would be next door. Some alleged the real estate agent who sold many of the homes in Kensington subdivision assured any new construction surrounding the neighborhood would only be residential.

The Web site posts a letter from former board trustee Ron Bailor, who wrote: “[I, Ron] Bailor came out in Dec. 04, Wal-Mart will be comming[sic] to Rockton, Rd. & 251 Paper [Beloit Daily News] printed what I said! Village officials said ‘We know nothing!’ They all were lying and I knew it!”

Rockton Mayor Dale Adams denies these claims. In the same Beloit Daily News article from December 2004, Adams stated, “Wal-Mart is considering building…on a piece of land in an unincorporated area of northern Winnebago County.” This area is still unincorporated, but may not be come June 7.

A neighborhood meeting June 1 opened resident discussion with Rockton Board members Tim Slocum, Dave Winters, and Scott Wallace, and Mayor Adams. The meeting may prove to be too little, too late, however.

“We have never hidden [the fact]…this would be our area for commercial construction,” said Wallace, who has been on the board for six years. Wallace added that if homeowners had requested zoning information prior to purchasing their homes, it would have been available at Rockton Village Hall.

Under Rockton bylaw, annexations are considered agricultural until a zoning vote takes place. Board members said the 156-acre lot has not yet been planned for development, but they would not rule out retail construction or a plan to zone the area as commercial.

Residents fear the economic boom of the almost certain construction of a Wal-Mart will attract other chain retail stores to their presently residential-only neighborhood.

“Wal-Mart is the top shark,” Kensington homeowner Dave Kissick said. “Little sharks will follow.”

The plan to build a Wal-Mart in Rockton follows closely on the heels of the May 18 grand opening of a new Wal-Mart Supercenter in northwest Rockford. That Wal-Mart employs 447 associates, including 200 positions created by the relocation of the store from its East State Street location. Nationwide, Wal-Mart employs 43,174 associates. There are 45 Wal-Mart Supercenters, 78 Wal-Mart discount stores, 28 Sam’s Clubs and three distribution centers in Illinois. In the last fiscal year, Wal-Mart collected on behalf of the state of Illinois sales taxes at rates ranging from 6.25 to 8.75 percent, and paid more than $61.2 million in state and local taxes.

Residents are not upset with Wal-Mart. They said they understand the need for Rockton to pull in revenue. But many said they fear the neighborhood will be unnecessarily subject to more traffic, crime, and loss of property value due to the close proximity of commercial sites.

If the vote June 7 allowed for commercial zoning, business property lines would back right up to some Kensington back yards. Village leaders said buffers will be provided between actual residential and commercial sites, but cannot say how large those “buffers” may be.

Most residents want the economic boom, but not the close construction. Wallace said he thinks the positives of Wal-Mart construction outweigh one subdivision’s concerns.

“We’ve lost things [revenue builders] because we’ve been too stringent,” Wallace said.

Adams indicated surrounding communities were willing to go to great lengths to attract businesses like Wal-Mart.

From the June 8-14, 2005, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!