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2006-05-12
Crescent City, FL. Wal-Mart Agent Threatens Homeowners With Eminent Domain

A real estate consultant representing Wal-Mart is threatening homeowners in Crescent City, Florida that if they don't sell an easement or right of way onto their property to make way for a 800,000 s.f. Wal-Mart Distribution Center, that the retailer will ask Putnam County officials to use eminent domain to get them out of their homes. This is the latest sinister twist in an already ugly case that Sprawl-Busters first wrote about five months ago. The counties of Putnam and Volusia have descended into a legal war over the huge distribution center, with Volusia charging that it will feel the negative impacts of traffic for a project that Putnam county improperly reviewed. In an editorial in the Daytona Beach News Journal, the newspaper said the distribution center would generate 5,000 truck trips a day onto a two-lane highway that cuts through northwest Volusia County's rural heart. "Putnam County officials didn't study the effects of traffic on Volusia roads," the News Journal wrote, "hardly a neighborly attitude, considering the site for the center is less than 50 feet from the county line." Putnam officials failed to conduct a "development of regional impact" process required for large projects. The land Wal-Mart wants is a potato farm, and it abuts a publicly-owned Preserve Conservation Area. The editorial called the distribution center "a growth-management nightmare, dropping an industrial site in the midst of farmland on both sides of the county line. Extension of water and sewer lines to the project would only encourage more sprawl in the area. This is exactly the kind of land-use mismatch that growth-management laws were written to prevent." A judge recently ruled that Putman County mishandled the project, and Wal-Mart withdrew their plans to start the process all over. Sprawl-Busters has obtained a copy of a letter from a real estate agent who says he is Wal-Mart's representative, threatening 7 home owners with the public taking of their land if they don't sell out. A citizen's letter about the threat says, "The Chamber of Commerce and Wal-Mart's rep, have taken to using scare tactics and unethical pressure to try to force the folks into selling their homes. While these are humble dwellings, they are their homes. We have an e-mail from the Wal-Mart rep, to the Chamber and local Coldwell Banker, along with copies of letters to some of the residents on the northeast section of Clifton/Hwy 17, telling them they have "until 5:00 pm Thursday, May 11 to accept [their client's offer to purchase their property]..." after this they will "ask the county to take whatever legal action is necessary to acquire their properties". This is an egregious misuse of the law as it was intended. The offer these folks have been given is NOT an offer to buy, but rather a contract with THE OPTION TO BUY within 6 months. This way the county and Wal-Mart 1) take away these residents' right to oppose the distribution center; 2) allow for the widening of Clifton Rd and installation of Clay Electric power poles to accommodate the DC; and 3) do away with any legal objection to this project with all the traffic going through a residential district. Unfortunately the very quality that we enjoy down here - peaceful, quiet, country atmosphere - is also the reason Wal-Mart comes into communities like ours - we're way out there where no one takes much notice. Hopefully people will see what low standards our elected officials have when it comes to accomplishing their purpose -- accommodating Wal-Mart and turning Clifton Rd into an industrial park." A lawyer representing the homeowners told the Sentinel, "One or two people are scared to death. They think if they don't give Wal-Mart what they want, they will get sued and will get
kicked out on the street. It can be pretty scary when somebody comes to your door and starts telling you they represent the biggest corporation in America, and they have the county backing them, and you better get in line."



What you can do: Putnam County Administrator Rick Leary told the Orlando Sentinel that the county hasn't agreed to use its powers of eminent domain for Wal-Mart. "Some people might think these individuals [the Wal-Mart representatives] are agents of the county, and they aren't," Leary said. "We haven't talked about using eminent domain, and it hasn't been anything the county has practiced." One elderly mobile home owner on Clifton Road told the newspaper, "They (Wal-Mart) are the big bear, and there's nothing we can do about it. The big bear comes in and takes whatever they want." Wal-Mart tried to distance itself from the agent who used their name in the threatening letter. "It sounds like there is a miscommunication somewhere along the way," the company spokesman said. "We have instructed a consultant to negotiate on our behalf [for the right of way], but beyond that, we have not given any instructions to say that if that doesn't work out, we should look at eminent domain. I can't tell you why they wrote that." The letter gives homeowners $1,000 for the right to buy their property at prices the agent said were "what we feel are at least twice the market value." Florida has a new law restricting municipal power to take private land. In this case, the widening of Clifton Road is to serve Wal-Mart's needs, and the public purpose is incidental to that. "They may say it is for public purpose to widen the road, but it is for the purpose of allowing the largest and richest corporation on the planet to come into the neighborhood and disrupt the neighborhood," a Volusia County official said. "That's a misuse of eminent domain."












 
 
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