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2007-06-30
Waxhaw, NC. Second Wal-Mart Battle Now in Fifth Year

On January 10, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Union County, North Carolina Board of Commissioners had rejected the Conditional Use Permit for a 196,000 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore in the town of Waxhaw. After Wal-Mart applied, a change was made in the zoning to limit retail buildings in Waxhaw to 62,500 sq. ft. The decision to reject Wal-Mart was by a unanimous 5-0 vote. The Charlotte Observer newspaper said the vote ended the "bitter debate over whether the retailer would shatter Waxhaw's identity as a small-town enclave of antique stores and horseback-supply shops." Wal-Mart responded to their loss by suggesting that they would simply look for another site in the area, but that they were not considering any other sites with Waxhaw. The parcel they chose on Route 16 was just half a mile north of the quaint Waxhaw downtown. The Commissioners said that the store was not compatible with the character of the surrounding area. Yet this week, Sprawl-Busters received an email from residents in Waxhaw about another long-standing Wal-Mart battle. According to residents, "We have been fighting Wal-Mart for over 5 years. The potential Wal-Mart would be a 24-hour SuperCenter within 50 feet of a residential neighborhood, and would have a direct access road from the Wal-Mart SuperCenter into a residential neighborhood." The email was followed by a 5 year chronology of their fight with the world's largest retailer: "Wal-Mart bought property at the corner of Rea Road and Tom Short Road in Waxhaw in 2001. In the spring of 2002, Wal-Mart filed site plans and a permit application for a 200,000+ sq. ft. supercenter with gas station and several outparcels. There is one Wal-Mart within 7 miles of Waxhaw and another one under construction within 5 miles of Waxhaw. The road from the Wal-Mart parking lot would pass by the neighborhood playground putting children and their families at an extreme safety risk. Local residents said that the superstore would increase crime, put children at an extreme safety risk, change the character of the community, and force other businesses to close. In January of 2002,. the neighborhood residents hired the Charlotte Law Firm of Parker, Poe, Adams and Bernstein. They filed an appeal of Land Use Administrator's letter that granted Wal-Mart vested rights for the property. In January 2002, the town's Land Use Ordinance amended to require Special Use Permit for any building over 50,000 sq ft. In March, 2002, there was a Board of Adjustment Hearing for Appeal of Vested Rights decision. Several hundred neighborhood residents held a rally outside the courthouse/government center -- although only 100 were permitted in the building due to space limitations. The Board of Adjustment said they couldn't hear the appeal since the request was not filed within 30 days of the letter being sent to Wal-Mart. The Board of Adjustment allowed neighbors to spend money on legal preparation for a hearing they did not intend to take place. County staff lied at the hearing about when the notice was given. In April, 2002, Wal-Mart filed site plans and a permit application for a 200,000+ supercenter with gas station and several outparcels. The Land Use Administrator did not accept the application. He advised Wal-Mart would have to abide by current zoning and get a Special Use Permit. In April, 2002, Lisa & Nathan Murphy filed an appeal of the Board of Adjustment decision to not hear the appeal. In May they filed an appeal of the Land Use Administrator's decision to call the proposed supercenter a "single tenant retail store" in his letter to Wal-Mart. This designation does not exist in the land use ordinance and the site plan (with outparcels) should have designated the project a "shopping center". In September, 2002, the Commissioners voted for a 3-month moratorium to review discrepancies in the PUD agreement. In September, 2003, the Board of Adjustments heard the residents' appeal of the "Shopping Center" designation, and voted to uphold the Land Use Administrator's decision that the proposed supercenter is a single tenant retail store. In the hearings Wal-Mart says it will not have any tenants. In October, 2003,.Lisa and Nathan Murphy file an appeal of the Board of Adjustment decision to uphold the "single tenant retail store" designation. In January, 2004, Wal-Mart drops a lawsuit it had filed against the county in exchange for procedural concessions. In March, 2004, Wal-Mart files application for Special Use Permit. Their plan is slightly modified from their April, 2002 application. In September, 2004, the Board of Adjustment approves the special use permit with conditions. Wal-Mart is asked to return with modified plan. In November, 2004, the Board of Adjustment reviews Wal-Mart's modified plan and finalizes approval and wording of permit. In January, 2005, the Board of Adjustment files a final decision to approve the Special Use Permit. In February, 2005, Union County and Neighbors filed an appeal of Board of Adjustment decision to grant the special use permit. In March, 2005, Wal-Mart and Union County Board of Adjustment filed motions to stop the appeal from being heard and to stop the county commissioners from dissolving the Board of Adjustment. A couple of weeks later, a Superior Court. Judge rules in the Residents' and County's favor. The court granted "writ for certiorari" to accept the case and move forward, and says that "residents and county" have "standing" in the case, and dismissed the request for an injunction to block the commissioners from dissolving the Board of Adjustment. The Union County Commissioners hold a Public hearing to dissolve the Board of Adjustment, and in May 2005, the Commissioners appointed a new Board of Adjustment. In March, 2006, the neighbors win their appeal. The Superior Court overturns the Special Use Permit that was granted by the Board of Adjustment. He concludes "as a matter of law that the decision of the Board was not supported by competent, material, and substantial evidence and was arbitrary and capricious." He also cited several due process violations. In May, 2006, Wal-Mart files an appeal of the Judge's decision to the North Carolina Court of Appeals. In September, 2006, Wal-Mart and the Board of Adjustment filed their briefs for Court of Appeals. In November, 2006, the neighbors and the county file their briefs for Court of Appeals. In March, 2007, the Commissioners hold a public hearing to dissolve the existing Planning Board and Board of Adjustment and to reconstitute with district representation based on townships. As of the end of March, 2007, the case is in the North Carolina Court of Appeals in Raleigh."

What you can do: There were apparently two Wal-Mart supercenter proposals beign submitted in Waxhaw. One of them was defeated in January of 2007, but this second proposal has been bouncing around for five years. I have often commented on the impacts these long, drawn-out battles have on Wal-Mart's store production schedule. By virtue of having been delayed 5 years at this location, Wal-Mart has already lost close to half a billion in sales. What should have been a three to six month permitting process has now dragged on since 2001. The residents of Waxhaw must feel exhausted at this point, but they have already won a major battle, just by keeping the horse off the track. Earlier this month Wal-Mart announced that 80 of its supercenters due to come on line in 2008 would not come on line until 2009. Now you can understand why. Waxhaw is a perfect example of the mistakes Wal-Mart makes in fighting tooth and nail against a community that does not want them. That point has already been eloquently made by the citizens who stood and fought. There may be no other retailer in America that stirs up such feverish opposition, and no other retailer that would waste as much money trying to force their way into town. Readers are urge to contact the following Union County Commissioners who are in favor of Wal-Mart, and urge them to use their office to send Wal-Mart back to Arkansas: Commissioner Allan Baucom, allanbaucom@co.union.nc.us. Commissioner Parker Mills at parkermills@co.union.nc.us. Commissioner Kevin Pressley at kevinpressley@co.union.nc.us.










 
 
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