When Wal-Mart officials announced plans to build a second store within four miles of its current supercenter, many Shoals residents wondered why the area needed two centers in such close proximity.
When they announced where they wanted to build it — south of Heathrow subdivision on Cloverdale Road and adjacent to the historical Gen. John Coffee home site and cemetery — many residents crowded into Florence City Hall to protest.
“There is only one Wal-Mart in Tuscaloosa,” one resident said to council members at a May meeting. “Why on God’s green earth do they want two of them in Florence?”
The almost constant outcry about the development throughout most of the year placed the story at No. 2 among the Top 10 stories of 2012 in a TimesDaily staff vote.
In May, the City Council unanimously voted to annex almost five acres on the west side of Cloverdale Road.
The property, zoned for single-family residential, would be rezoned general business to clear the way for construction for the big-box store.
At almost every meeting concerning the proposed construction, residents were there to be heard.
A petition against the proposal collected 1,000 signatures.
Groups such as Community Against Urban Sprawl were organized.
Members of the group were concerned about issues that included increased traffic.
“We’re going to be invaded with lights, car horns, rats and people scaling the fence” if the development goes through, warned Coy Bramlett, a member of Community Against Urban Sprawl. His home is less than 100 yards from the property.
Councilman James Barnhart urged others on the council to proceed with caution because residential neighborhoods “are an important part of the city’s life.”
Wal-Mart’s developer, Gonzalex-Strength and Associates of Birmingham, had to offer reassurances that a buffer would be built to protect neighborhoods and that the company would take extra care to avoid two historic cemeteries.
Residents voiced concern that the development would be built on top of an unmarked burial ground near Coffee Cemetery. Coffee Cemetery is clearly marked with gravestones and monuments. The concern was that there were unmarked graves of servants who worked for Coffee and his family.
After a week of digging near Coffee Cemetery, a crew from the Alabama Historical Commission did not find any evidence of human remains.
Not everyone in the community took a dim view to the development. Some residents, and at least one business owner, said the increase in traffic from Wal-Mart would mean an increase in traffic forsurrounding businesses.
The plan that began two days before Christmas in 2011 and caused a hue and cry from sides for and against another Wal-Mart in Florence throughout 2012 is ready to become reality.