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2005-02-12
Lawrence, KS. Wal-Mart Fights City Denial In Court Over Word Definitions

Wal-Mart, which likes to portray itself as a good neighbor, has taken another city to court for denying the retailer a superstore. In this case, the outcome may hinge on a definition. Wal-Mart contends it is a "variety store" and thus met the city's zoning code, while city officials say the retailer is a "department store" and did not fit into the zoning. According to the Lawrence, Kansas Journal-World, Wal-Mart's legal appeal has heated up the Douglas County district courtroom. Wal-Mart attorneys argued that the city commissioners ignored expert opinions from their own staff when they turned down the retailer's plans to build a superstore on the northwest side of the city. Wal-Mart is seeking to overturn a city decision in 2003 that denied Wal-Mart a building permit. Two lawyers scuffled in the court, one of whom was a Wal-Mart lawyer, who was offended by the suggestion that the retailer had been less than forthright in dealing with City Hall. Wal-Mart argued that the city had superseded the authority of its Planning Director and Neighborhood Resources Director. Wal-Mart claims city officials denied the permit for political reasons. "The City Commission decided it just didn't want a Wal-Mart," the retailer's lawyer said. "Wal-Mart saw that there was a game being played here. It is time for the gamesmanship to end." The city responded by saying that Wal-Mart had the chance to convince the zoning board that they were a variety store rather than a department store. The city pointed out that Wal-Mart, in its own annual report, referred to itself as a department store company. "They never presented any evidence that they were anything other than a department store," the city said. "The evidence is that Wal-Mart is and has been the world's largest department store."

What you can do: The operating principle here seems to be 'what you can't get by regulation, try to get by litigation.' The city says it has spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars on three lawsuits related to this piece of property. Lawrence, by the way, already has a Wal-Mart store, which the company is trying to expand into a superstore. After the city said no to the supercenter on the northwest side of town, instead of being a good neighbor and respecting the city's ruling, Wal-Mart headed to court. I doubt the city council in Lawrence considers Wal-Mart a good corporate citizen, and the city's taxpayers are paying to defend their city against Wal-Mart's expansion plans. For earlier stories on this subject, search Newsflash by "Lawrence."










 
 
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