Westerville, OH. Residents Prepare For Wal-Mart Legal Battle
Some Wal-Mart battles seem to go on forever. The city of Westerville, Ohio has had more than a decade of battles with Wal-Mart. On October 6, 2010, Sprawl-Busters reported that a Wal-Mart developer had sued the city over its rejection of a 212,000 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore. The Westerville City Council had voted unanimously in September of 2000 to turn the project down. The developer's lawyer called the city's rejection "arbitrary and capricious", even though the project was rejected four times by the city's planning commission before the Council slam dunked it also. Eleven years later, Wal-Mart is back in Westerville, trying to develop another location, and using veiled legal threats once again to get their way.
Back in 2000 City officials told the Columbus Dispatch newspaper that the Wal-Mart simply did not meet the standards for a planned-commercial zone established for the land they want. This week, local residents were back in touch with Sprawl-Busters, indicating that their next step might be court action. "We are trying to stop Wal-Mart from invading our small quiet community," residents wrote. "Several years ago Wal-Mart made an attempt to come into the north end of our town, it received a lot of negative support and our City Council was able to keep it out. The store was very large and the Council was able to get around it with new zoning.
"Now we are shocked that Walmart is trying to quietly make their way into our southern corridor. Our Westerville Square Shopping Center developed in 1968 by Hadler Co. is the location this time. This shopping center has not had a remodel since it's inception nor has it been adequately maintained. About a year ago of Hadler Co. began the process of an application for a minor modification. Their anchor tenant was Wal-Mart!
"Our planning/zoning committee made a year's worth of requests and reluctantly approved the project -- suggesting that they had no choice the requests were met. They feared that if they did not approve the modification, the developer and Wal-Mart would sue Westerville. Despite protest from our residents our planning commission finally approved the project as a major modification, and sent it to our City Council. But they were reluctant on several issues -- censity and 24 hour operations, since this is a residential neighborhood.
"About 2 months ago our City Council got the proposal. Even after 'an overwhelming amount of response' and '80% against this redevelopment' it was approved by our City Council with a 6-1 vote. There was also a vote on the 24 hour operation and whether to grant it or not. It was a 4-3 vote for the 24 hour store hours to be permitted. Without the 24 hours operation according to the developer, Wal-Mart would have walked away from Westerville."
Acording to Columbuslocalnews.com the only City Council member to vote against the 108,000 s.f. Wal-Mart plan was Vice Chairman Craig Treneff, who said a city study for this corridor done nine years ago called for development of this parcel as a neighborhood center -- not a regional facility. A more pedestrian-friendly development was also called for in a 2009 updatae to the area plan. "Planning codes and zoning exist for a reason, and that's to protect the public," the Vice Chairman explained.
By a narrower margin, the Westerville City Council voted 4-3 to allow the developer, Hadler Company, to keep the Wal-Mart superstore open round the clock -- something the neighbors strongly opposed. Hadler claimed that Wal-Mart would back out of the deal if their store could not operate 24/7 -- but there are many precedents across the country of superstores that shut down at 11 pm or earlier. Overnight hours will only make it more expensive for the city to respond to police incidents.
The developer told local officials he was willing to live with one condition that prevents Wal-Mart from expanding its store as part of their deed. Hadler said he could make more money by renting to smaller businesses in other spaces in the mall.
At the most recent hearing on July 5th, nearly three out of four people testifying were against the plan. A group called "Whack the Wal-Mart in Westerville" has a Facebook page with almost 500 members. The group believes it could win a referendum vote if they can get the measure before voters on the ballot.
What you can do: According to a report sent to Sprawl-Busters, local Westerville residents say: "We are left with no alternative but to begin a petition for a referendum. We need to get this issue on our November 2011 ballot. Hadler Co. has vowed to stop this process in court and block the referendum saying it was passed as an administrative not legislative act. With a town 80% against their redevelopment, Halder Co. does not want nor can he afford for it to be on a ballot for the residents to decide the fate."
"People want to see this center, a huge area of our southern corridor, fixed up. But Hadler Co. has been withholding tenants for at least 5 years now causing the center to be even more run down. Hadler Co. has led us to believe that Wal-Mart is the only option but we believe if Hadler Co. reinvested in the shopping center his family has owned since 1968 he would have attracted a much better option and specialty retailers not a big box retailer are the right decision for our neighborhood and our community!"
To keep updated on this battle, go to "Whack the Wal-Mart In Westerville" page on Facebook. The groups says its mission is "To save Old School Westerville and to Stop the Destruction of Jobs, Community, and Standard of Living in the Westerville Community! Stand and Protest against the Wal-Mart on State and Schrock Road."