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2009-02-24
Front Royal, VA. Life After Wal-Mart Loses: A Grand Thing.

On April 23, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that a three and a half year battle against Wal-Mart was over -- and the citizens have won. Sprawl-Busters wrote 8 stories about the small town of Front Royal, Virginia, dating back to December of 2002. Wal-Mart came to this community with a plan requiring the town to rezone 121 acres at the northern entrance to the town from residential to commercial. The citizen's group, Save Our Gateway, fought the project every step of the way. The group argued that Wal-Mart should locate in the existing commercial corridor along Route 522, which already has town water and sewer lines. At one point, the citizens' group sued Wal-Mart and Front Royal, challenging the vote that approved the river location. That vote had been clouded by the lack of a quorum. Sprawl-Busters reported in June of 2005 that Wal-Mart finally pulled out of the project, and was looking for another site in town. But the court appeal was still pending. In April of 2006, the citizen's won another victory. "They all said we couldn't do it," our correspondent wrote, "that we wouldn't win in court, that Wal-Mart would win or the Town of Front Royal would win. Well, they didn't win this time. This time the people won. The Supreme Court of Virginia nullified the Town Council's zoning decision from R-1 to commercial made 3 years ago and further decreed that the Town Council not only acted improperly, but illegally when voting without a quorum." The leaders of Save Our Gateway sent out this notice to their supporters in 2006: "Friday morning, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled on our court appeal, and decided in our favor! The town council did not have a quorum and therefore, there was not a valid rezoning. Congratulations to all of you who have helped, supported, donated and joined with us over the past four years. It's been quite a struggle, but we can now say it was worth it! We have won twice, once to move Wal-Mart, once to void the rezoning, and now we're going to go for a third win -- the permanent preservation of the land. We have proven that citizens' really can be heard by their government, and can help shape the future of their community. It is now time to come together with all elements of that community and work towards a common goal for all of our futures." The so-called "third win" finally came this week. According to the Northern Virginia Daily, the preservation of most of the 121 acre Wal-Mart site will actually happen. The Town council voted on February 23, 2009 to approve a rezoning request from landowner Larry Andrews to make the property a denser form of retail zone -- not commercial. Andrews bought the property from the H.H.C. Richards Trust, which made the deal with Wal-Mart. Instead of a Wal-Mart, Andrews wants to develop 9 acres of the property for 50 high-end retirement duplex units ranging from 1,400 to 2,400 square feet. Front Royal Vice Mayor Bret W. Hrbek told The News that this residential project will "heal the wounds" that Wal-Mart created in town. This land had been used in the past to raise hay for Andrew's cattle. 70 acres of the property is in a floodplain, and only 44 could be developed. Roughly 109 acres of the land will be placed in a conservation easement, and will remain open land. Under the conservation agreement, Andrews can build a house and a barn and farm the land. Craig Laird, one of the leaders behind Save Our Gateway, praised the new plans. "We finally have closure," Laird said. "It's a grand thing that's happened."
According to the Northern Virginia Daily Newspaper, the Supreme Court ruling in this case was a precedent-setting case which returns the zoning on the 121 acres to residential use. The Supreme Court has overturned a lower court decision by Rockingham County Circuit Judge James V. Lane. Save Our Gateway had named Wal-Mart, the town of Front Royal and H.H.C. Richards Trust, the property owner, as defendants. Both Wal-Mart, which has stated its intentions to build elsewhere in Warren County, and the town dropped out of the litigation as it made its way to the state's high court. Readers are urged to call Front Royal Mayor Eugene R. Tewalt at (540) 631-2725 with the following message: "Dear Mayor Tewalt, Congratulations on a successful end to the long battle against Wal-Mart. The conservation of more than 100 acres in your town is a great victory over sprawl, and the Town Council should be congratulated for helping to end this divisive chapter in the town's history. This land was never appropriate for a big box store, and fortunately for Front Royal, you had citizens who were willing to take on a battle that few people thought they would win. A big box store the size of a Wal-Mart supercenter was not compatible with the town, and that particular piece of property. But as Save Our Gateway has said, 'We finally have closure.'"

What you can do: When Wal-Mart is defeated, and over 100 acres remains open space -- it is a 'grant thing' indeed. According to the Northern Virginia Daily Newspaper, the Supreme Court ruling in this case was a precedent-setting case which returned the zoning on the 121 acres to residential use. The Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision by Rockingham County Circuit Judge James V. Lane. Save Our Gateway had named Wal-Mart, the town of Front Royal and H.H.C. Richards Trust, the property owner, as defendants. Both Wal-Mart, which has stated its intentions to build elsewhere in Warren County, and the town, dropped out of the litigation as it made its way to the state's high court. But if the citizens had not gone to the courts, there would be a huge superstore on this property today. Readers are urged to call Front Royal Mayor Eugene R. Tewalt at (540) 631-2725 with the following message: "Dear Mayor Tewalt, Congratulations on a successful end to the long battle against Wal-Mart. The conservation of more than 100 acres in your town is a great victory over sprawl, and the Town Council should be congratulated for helping to end this divisive chapter in the town's history. This land was never appropriate for a big box store, and fortunately for Front Royal, you had citizens who were willing to take on a battle that few people thought they would win. A big box store the size of a Wal-Mart supercenter was not compatible with the town, and that particular piece of property. But as Save Our Gateway has said, 'We finally have closure.'"










 
 
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