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2005-10-09
Smithville, TN. Wal-Mart Rezoning Put On Hold

Residents in Smithville, Tennessee report that Wal-Mart is trying to put a superstore right on their front door -- on land that is not properly zoned. The town's Planning Commission had a meeting this weeki to discuss the rezoning of the 12 acre property Wal-Mart wants to acquire. The rezoning motion was put on hold because all the abuttors were not properly notified of the hearing. Property owner Hoyte Odom is seeking the land change to pave the way for a 100,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter and its gas station. The land is currently zoned R-1, low-density residential, and has homes abutting the rear of the property. Odom wants to dramatically change the classification to B-2 general business. Wal-Mart wants to buy another 15 acres adjacent to the site to create a 27 acre parcel. The Planning Commission has to make a recommendation to the Smithville Board of Mayor and Aldermen, who get the final say. Neighbors complained that Odom has failed to explain in his application for a zone change why the change is needed in the first place, and how it would advance the welfare of town residents. "We shouldn't have to guess what his reasons or basis is for changing this from R-1 low density residential to a commercial district and putting a big commercial business there," one resident testified. "He needs to tell us so that we can make investigations and if we need to, hire environmental experts on various things like traffic, water, pollution, and crime." Wal-Mart's engineering firm acknowledged that residential neighbors were close to the property, and said, "We're leaving room on that side (of the properly) to come in and try to do some berming and various buffering with landscaping and things of that nature." Another neighbor protested, "What is a big commercial building in the middle of a neighborhood going to do to all of us? Who would want to live next to twenty four hour lights, twenty four hour noise, twenty four hour trucks? Is this neighborhood the right place to put a Wal-Mart Super Center? I say no, it absolutely makes no sense. You (planning commission) have the power to do a lot of things, to require studies, to look at different aspects of this... You are the gate keepers of our community and I dare say this is probably the most important decision you will ever make... I don't understand why we need to cram something like this in the middle of a neighborhood." Another resident brought up the economic impacts of a Wal-Mart supercenter: "I am very concerned about the people that have businesses in this town that I care about, and the research that I've done in reading about the affect of Wal-Mart coming into a small community like our own, is that you can pretty much plan on at least thirty percent of your small businesses shutting down. People talk about Wal-Mart coming in and bringing in all these jobs, well, look at what they're paid, and then look at the jobs we're going to lose if they come in and fold up thirty percent of our businesses. These are people that I've grown up with that have their life savings invested in their businesses. These people have their whole livelihood in the businesses that they've built. Do you think Wal-Mart cares about us? They come in to make whatever dollar they can and then move on. And if they do that, if they move on and they've shut down thirty percent of our small businesses, what are we left with?" A ghost town." No one at the Planning Commission hearing spoke in favor of the Wal-Mart plan, but a petition was submitted in favor of the Wal-Mart rezoning.

Rezoning is not a right due to any landowner. The town has to decide if rezoning serves the health, safety and welfare of local residents. The town's zoning code should contain a list of specific critieria to consider in making a rezoning decision, so that local officials are not being arbitrary of capricious when they vote. Residents who are aggrieved by a rezoning vote, can then challenged that decision in court -- but they need to present expert testimony during the hearings on issues like traffic, impact on property values, etc. A rezoning appeal can take as long a year for the courts to process, and during that year, anything can happen, because Wal-Mart is in a big hurry to get their stores built. For local contacts in Smithville, email info@sprawl-busters.com

What you can do: Rezoning is not a right due to any landowner. The town has to decide if rezoning serves the health, safety and welfare of local residents. The town's zoning code should contain a list of specific critieria to consider in making a rezoning decision, so that local officials are not being arbitrary of capricious when they vote. Residents who are aggrieved by a rezoning vote, can then challenge that decision in court -- but they need to present expert testimony during the hearings on issues like traffic, impact on property values, etc. A rezoning appeal can take as long a year for the courts to process, and during that year, anything can happen, because Wal-Mart is in a big hurry to get their stores built. The fact is, this project jars with residential zoning, and there is no way to buffer a 100,000 s.f. store. For local contacts in Smithville, email info@sprawl-busters.com










 
 
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