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By Donnabeth Leffler

Few Opposing Voices

By Donnabeth Leffler Posted September 10, 2013 at 5:15 am

A few times each week, as I’m waiting to turn on to Fordham Boulevard, a giant truck races by. On it’s side, it says Walmart along with it’s yellow stick-drawn sun logo. I don’t think I need to channel Nancy Drew to figure out the truck is heading to or from the new store just over the Orange County line in Chatham.

That truck is not the only vehicle arriving at that store from Chapel Hill. The other vehicles are likely leaving with goods, not delivering them. The drivers of the other vehicles are leaving something behind, though: sales tax dollars that will help Chatham County pay for needed services.

I may not be the only one to have noticed this south-bound traffic. It may have even changed a few minds about the possibility of hosting a competitor. Public Policy Polling Director Tom Jensen recently told Chapelboro.com “There’s always been a lot of controversy over whether Chapel Hill would be open to a big box store, and what we found in this poll is that 56 percent of voters in town would like to have a Target in Southern Orange County,” says Jensen. “Only 15 percent are opposed to that idea.”

The interesting number to me in that poll is the 15% opposed. That’s a very low number against something that’s long been thought taboo in this town.

Did it never really have strong opposition or did the combined economic realities of property taxes and town services change minds? Or did the many shoppers heading to the new store (and those who routinely run to Durham’s New Hope Commons) realize all they were leaving in their own county was car fumes?

I tend to be skeptical of polls in general because of the joy I found in trying to confound all the pre-election pollsters who called my home last year. But our own Public Policy Polling has an awfully good reputation so even if the numbers are off, I think we can safely say big box retail in Chapel Hill does not have majority opposition. 

That surprised me and I bet it surprises current town council members and the ten candidates (including two incumbents) competing for four seats in the next election.

We’ll see long after November’s vote if the council is heeding the majority.

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