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2009-08-14
Miramar, FL. Four Years After Defeat, Wal-Mart Project Finally Dead

An army of citizens has defeated another Wal-Mart in Florida, and a court ruling has rejected Wal-Mart's legal appeal. This week, the project was officially pronounced dead. On September 8, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had lost another battle, this time in Miramar, Florida. The project never got off to the right start for the rapacious retailer. In 2005, Wal-Mart bought a 29 acre parcel for $10 million at Flamingo Road and Miramar Parkway. Citizens against Wal-Mart in Miramar literally took to the streets to express their unhappiness about a supercenter. Miramar's Monarch Lakes residents testified during the hearings that they were concerned about traffic and congestion in their already-crowded neighborhood. In the early morning hours of September 8, 2005, while most Wal-Mart brass were sound asleep, the City Commissioners in Miramar voted 4-1 to sink the superstore by rejected the rezoning proposal that company needed. It took five hours of debate, but the vote was decisive. Residents in the Monarch Lake subdivision in Miramar kept the heat turned on from start to finish, while inside city hall more than 300 people packed the hearing room. Wal-Mart walked away without their needed rezoning of 29 acres of land, and without their 221,000 s.f. store. The city in June of 2005 actually gave an initial nod to the plan, but in September they let it die. "There are places for stores like this," one resident was quoted as saying in the Sun-Sentinel newspaper, "and it's far away from our homes." Wal-Mart dumped its liquor store and tire center to try and gain favor -- all to no avail. City staff came up with 24 conditions to impose on Wal-Mart if they built, including limiting the hours of truck deliveries, keeping uniformed security guards in the parking lots -- low cost measures that Wal-Mart could agree to. Trying to whip up enthusiasm for their store, Wal-Mart mailed out 40,000 glossy fliers, and got back 1,400 cards in support of their store -- a 3.5% response rate. According to the Miami Herald, the glossy mailings were produced by a Texas firm that has done work for President Bush. During the hearings, Wal-Mart's lawyer tried to get newly elected City Commissioner John Moore to abstain from voting, because when Moore was on the Planning Board, he voted against the project. But Moore stayed on the Board, saying that he had no problem remaining fair and impartial. Even if he had abstained, the outcome would have remained the same. After its defeat, Wal-Mart filed a lawsuit to try and get the land rezoned from agricultural to community business district. As the Miami Herald later wrote, "In the battle of the megastore and the homeowners, the residents won." "We had our own army. Each neighborhood had a leader, they were like neighborhood captains, and they had people beneath them," organizer Carl Lanke told the Herald. "We organized pretty much as you do on a political campaign."


What you can do: Despite their court victory, neighbors were concerned that the city's rejection of this project was not the end of the story. After Wal-Mart sued, it took nearly four years to kill the project. The Miami Herald reports this week that the superstore project is officially dead. In 2008, a judge rejected Wal-Mart's appeal, but only recently the company listed the property for sale for nearly twice what it purchased it for: $19.6 million. "Our plans to build the store were not approved," a Wal-Mart spokeswoman told the Herald. "Therefore, we can't go build our store." Wal-Mart Realty has 31 properties for sale in Florida, but the Miramar site is not part of the list. There are 18 Wal-Marts and two Sam's Clubs in Broward County, plus several more within driving distance in North Miami-Dade County -- so the dead Miramar project will not be missed. During this fight, Wal-Mart had the backing of Miramar's city staff, who said the proposal meet the city's development regulations. Wal-Mart used a major public relations campaign to try and push the project through, touting the purported financial benefits to taxpayes of having a supercenter. When they lost the city vote, Wal-Mart went to court -- but the homeowners in Monarch Lakes went right along with them. The citizens hired the Miami law firm of Tew Cardenas to represent them. The citizens hired planning experts who testified that the city's own development map called for smaller stores in that location -- not on massive superstore. A traffic engineer hired by residents said that traffic from the superstore would be far worse than Wal-Mart projected. These experts were critical in establishing that Miramar Commissioners had 'findings of fact' they could point to as reasons to deny the rezoning. Wal-Mart filed their appeal in Broward Circuit Court, charging that that the Miramar commissioners failed to "apply the correct law" during the hearing. But opponents noted that the commissioners had responded to solid findings against the project. In the end, Broward Circuit Court Judge Robert Carney denied Wal-Mart's appeal, saying the commissioner's vote was based on arguments during the hearing. In April 2008, the case was officially closed, and the land has been sitting empty for the past 15 months. But the land now has a For Sale sign on it, and a real estate agent is trying to sell it. Monarch Lakes residents, however, told the Miami Herald that they continue to watch the property, continue to have meetings, and are prepared to mobilize their 'army' again. Readers are urged to contact Miramar's Mayor, Lori Cohen Moseley, at lmoseley@ci.miramar.fl.us with the following message: "Dear Mayor Moseley, I am so pleased to see that Wal-Mart is finally selling its property on Flamingo Road. But the city should take steps now to ensure that this kind of win/lose land use battle does not happen again. The Monarch Lakes residents had to go to great expense to protect their homes and neighborhood from this out-of-scale project, including expenses for legal and technical experts. If the city had a cap on the size of retail buildings, say 60,000 s.f., this battle would never have taken place. Before anything further is proposed for this empty parcel, its time to lead growth instead of follow it. With one sentence, you can end the debate over superstore sprawl and project your homeowners from years of anxiety and expense. I urge you to propose a size cap ordinance for Miramar to protect the value of homes and the character of your community."











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

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