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2007-04-07
Lawrence, KS. Wal-Mart Fights The Case Of The Shinking Superstore

After nearly six years of wrangling, Wal-Mart and the City Council in Lawrence, Kansas will step into a courtroom later this month, as the retailer tries to overturn a city ruling last October that denied a building permit for a reduced superstore. The trial will begin April 16th, but the cost of litigation has made some city officials nervous about standing up to Wal-Mart. The use of lawsuits has been standard operating proceedure for Wal-Mart. The retailer knows that most cities and towns are reluctant to spend money on lawsuits, so they cave in to Wal-Marts plans. Lawrence is a perfect case in point. "I don't know where we're headed on that issue, frankly," City Commissioner Sue Hack told the Lawrence Journal-World. "I know I would rather not head to trial on it." Commissioner Mike Dever had similar concerns. "If we can avoid spending more money on litigation, and still do what is best for the city, I'm interested in considering it," he told the newspaper. Mayor Mike Amyx -- who supported the supercenter last October -- said, "I believe we should always be open to settle matters." But the landowners are dead set on going to court. The rejected plan would have allowed Wal-Mart to build a 99,840 s.f. store at the corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. Wal-Mart actually began in 2001 with a 200,000 s.f. superstore. That plan was rejected by the city. Wal-Mart took the case to court, and a judge gave the city and Wal-Mart half a year to come up with a smaller plan. After commissioners voted that plan down, Wal-Mart and the developers filed a lawsuit to allow the company to build a 132,000 s.f. Wal-Mart store. The larger store is the samed size store that Wal-Mart proposed in 2003. Local residents have complained that the project will contribute the major traffic problems in the area, and Commissioners said the project would create more retail development than the city had planned at that location. Yesterday lawyers from both sides were in Douglas County District Court. The judge hearing the case has ruled earlier that the city only has to show that its Zoning Board acted "reasonably," but Wal-Mart wants the court to rule that the city applied the facts in the case to its specific zoning ordinance. "Wal-Mart could not possibly be more disappointed to be back here," an attorney representing Wal-Mart, told the judge. "But we feel we have no choice but to ask that this matter be set for trial at the earliest possible date."

What you can do: Even if Wal-Mart prevails in court, it has already lost. It has lost nearly 6 years of sales, while its legal bills mounted up. Instead of selling discount Chinese underwear, Wal-Mart has been on the losing end of two city decisions -- and now has to try to force its way through the door with legal maneuvering. At each step along the way, Wal-Mart's store kept shrinking and shrinking. On April 25, 2006, Sprawl-Busters wrote that some residents in Lawrence would rather have no loaf than half a loaf. "Our neighborhood, which collected more than 400 signatures, is devastated," they wrote. "This so-called scaled-back version doesn't prevent Wal-Mart from building or requesting an expansion later. Furthermore, the proposed location is right next to a high-school full of young drivers, and is at a very large, busy intersection (only going to get worse with them here). We already have a large Wal-Mart which can be accessed within 10 minutes from any point in the city, and they are undergoing remodeling into a "super-store" at this moment, which will carry a full-line grocery." Wal-Mart does not seem to know when to draw the line when the permitting process drags on for years. It's doing its stockholders no favors by becoming enmeshed in multi-year battles against local city officials. Readers are encouraged to send an email to the City Council, urging them to keep up their legal battle against Wal-Mart -- at any size. Email them at: cityhall@ci.lawrence.ks.us










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

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