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2006-07-22
Portsmouth, MI. Judge Gives Wal-Mart 30 Days To Submit Site Plan

A grassroots citizen's group in Portsmouth, Michigan has kept Wal-Mart in limbo for nearly two years now. This week a Circuit Court judge gave Wal-Mart thirty days to submit a site plan to the township. The giant retailer was given a green light by local officials more than a year ago, and given a site plan approval good for a year from issuance -- but the Friends of Portsmouth Township say that approval has now expired, noting that the land in question is part of an agricultural preservation agreement, and can not legally be used for commercial development. Last October, Sprawl-Busters was invited to the Portsmouth site, and we reported that the Michigan Department of Agriculture had turned down a request from the property owners, Chris and Karla Ratajczak, to release their farmland from Public Act 116, the Farmland and Open Space Preservation Act. The Ratajczak's put their land under PA 116, and got a tax break for preserving it -- but now they want to pull out of the preservation deal to preserve their financial profit from a Wal-Mart sale. The landowners agreed to a tax break to take their land out of development through December 1, 2008. Wal-Mart's site plan expired this week, and opponents wanted the site plan thrown out. But a Circuit Court judge allowed the company another 30 days. Wal-Mart and the landowners tried to blame the citizen's group for the delay, because opponents filed a lawsuit against the township when the site plan was approved. But Attorney Scott Howard, representing the Friends group, denied charges that the group's lawsuit was holding up the development. "We're not the ones holding this up," he explained. It was the landowner's actions that put the parcel into agricultural protection -- not Wal-Mart opponents. Wal-Mart's lawyer said the company has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in this site. The judge agreed with the Friends group when he told the landowners, ''It's not the suit that's holding this thing up, it's (P.A.) 116." Dr. Mark C. Stewart, an abutter and opponent, told the Bay City Times his group was pleased with the judge's decision to give Wal-Mart only give 30 days.''This is clearly unnecessary urban sprawl,'' Stewart told the newspaper. ''We're going to keep fighting and see what we can do. We're trying to preserve a way of life.''

What you can do: The landowners continue to pressure state officials at the Agriculture Department to let them out of their tax deal. Township officials have tried to promote the Wal-Mart plan by passing a resolution that the superstore will be in the public interest. But last fall, Agricultural officials said that taking the land out of farming would damage surrounding farmland, and that "reasonable and prudent alternatives" were available for constructing a supercenter. The township has an empty mall nearby, plus another Wal-Mart supercenter several miles away. All this opposition has kept this project in limbo for nearly two years -- a major victory in itself for local citizens. Last fall, Dr. Stewart erected several flag poles on his neighboring property. One was a flag with Wal-Mart's Mr. Smiley, and another was the flag of China -- a symbol of Wal-Mart importation of cheap Chinese goods to the detriment of American manufacturing jobs. Sprawl-Busters helped dedicate those flags, which sit right on the edge of the M-15 highway for motorist to ponder. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by "Portsmouth."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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