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2007-05-19
Miami, FL. Controversial Home Depot Opens To Traffic Jam

On November 19, 2004, Sprawl-Busters began the story of a citizens group's efforts to block the construction of a Home Depot store in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami, Florida. We reported at the time that residents of the Grove were organizing to stop Home Depot from taking over a mall once leased by Kmart. One of 18 under-performing store leases sold by Kmart to Home Depot in June, 2004, the Coconut Grove location is surrounded by residential homes, apartments and condominiums. An existing Home Depot is just minutes away on 8th St. Neighbors said from the outset that the project was too intense for the parcel, and would discourage shoppers from trying to get into the village mercantile area near the store. Opponents formed a group "The Grove First," and produced a film about their battle with the world's largest home improvement chain. Because of resident pressure, Home Depot was forced to fit its store inside the footprint of the 70,000 s.f. empty Kmart. The Home Depot finally opened this week, two and a half years after announcing their plans. According to CBS TV 4 in Miami, the discount retailer got itself into a jam from day one. A City of Miami Police officer had to be called out to US 1 and 32nd Ave. by the store two evenings ago, after a tractor-trailer truck ran aground, shutting down traffic to US 1 as it got out of the store's parking lot. Home Depot said it was not one of their delivery trucks, but the traffic snarl was an ominous predictor of things to come. Home Depot had to issue the following statement: "About 9 p.m. Thursday, an auto-hauling tractor-trailer truck was observed leaving our parking lot after stopping long enough to unload two cars. Home Depot associates went to investigate just as the truck pulled into traffic, where it collided with a pickup. This parking lot has been used for virtually every reason for several years before Home Depot moved in. Apparently, some people still see it as a place to transact business. However, this was not a Home Depot delivery truck." Residents say Home Depot erred -- there was no collision, the truck just got stuck. Over the past two and a half years, The Grove First has maintained that this neighborhood location was not compatible with the warehouse operations of a high-volume big box store. One of the neighborhood activists, Marc Sarnoff, was elected as a Miami Commissioner. "This is not designed for an industrial warehouse," Sarnoff told CBS. "This is not designed for this heavy use." Sarnoff asked the city's Zoning Administrator to rule if this site was prohibited as a nonconforming use in its zone, if the project required a special exception, and if the project was subject to the Coconut Grove Neighborhood Conservation District rules. The city's attorney, however, intervened, and would not let the Zoning Administrator reply. "You inserted yourself into the process," Sarnoff wrote in a letter yesterday to the city's attorney, "and then refused to provide a zoning opinion on very broad questions of law that concern general City of Miami zoning issues."

What you can do: Home Depot picked up this store as a result of mass closings by Kmart. Home Depot clearly had no idea what kind of deep water they would get into in The Grove. The company must have asked itself many times along the way: Is this really worth it? After all, as the store manager admitted, "we're not one of the larger stores in the company, and we don't have a lumber yard, garden department and building materials... " This location was not needed in the first place, since there is another Home Depot located just minutes away. The purchase by Home Depot may have been largely defensive -- to keep Lowe's or another home improvement store from having the site. But once purchased, Home Depot has done everything wrong. They hired a local architect to provide a rendering of the new store -- but neighbors said an industrial warehouse was illegal in that zone, no matter how you prettied it up. They ignored resident concerns at every twist and turn, and they lost a political battle when Sarnoff was elected commissioner. Now, after years of community testimony about traffic concerns, the store opens up with a bang -- a major traffic snarl in their parking lot. The pile-ups are likely to continue at Home Depot -- but the major "tie-up" will be with angry residents who predicted this would happen. There is a pending lawsuit against the City of Miami by the site's neighbors, aiming to require the city to obey its own laws. "When our city's executive branch fails to abide by the laws the Commission passes, citizens must turn to the courts, and the residents must continue their fight," writes Mel Meinhardt, one of The Grove First organizers. "We are sure all Grove residents will agree and understand our quiet determination to see this through...We look forward to a successful conclusion of the long campaign to keep big-box operations out of Coconut Grove's residential neighborhoods -- or remove them if they should open illegally. You may see the doors open, but don't give up. We will continue to fight to save our quality of life in Coconut Grove." For earlier stories, search Newsflash by "Miami."












 
 
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