Southfield, MI. Wal-Mart Loses Vote To Tear Down Church
This week anti-sprawl activists in Southfield, Michigan sent word of their defeat over the world's largest retailer on a controversial piece of property that was not properly zoned:
"I contacted you several months ago concerning Wal-Marts' attempt to infiltrate our city at probably one of the most inappropriate location in the county. The site belongs to the Catholic Church and they strongly supported Wal-Mart. The hook of course was added revenue to the city plus 300 new jobs. Fortunately common sense and lots of solid evidence concerning Wal-Mart's business philosophy persuaded the Council that Wal-Mart destroys neighborhoods and communities wherever they go. So we won. Reading your site provided insight on how to present evidence to Wal-Mart's agenda especially the story of what happened in Rosemead, California, in which the Wal-Mart presenter, Eric Hingst, omitted the $400,000 campaign contribution to push Wal-mart's agenda. The Council president, via your site, researched it. Pretty much said to me if they lied about this, what else are they lying about? Thank you for your site because it really is a blueprint to victory over urban sprawl."
According to the C and G newspaper, the City Council's decision to reject a proposed 130,124 s.f. Wal-Mart in Southfield "shocked as many residents as it thrilled."
The Southfield City Council voted overwhelmingly 5-1 not to allow the rezoning of property currently the site of an empty Catholic Church, St. Bede's.
Immediately after the vote was taken, anti-Wal-Mart residents began celebrating and cheering. "We won! ... David beats Goliath," one resident noted in an email blast after the meeting. "We can't put our slingshots away just yet, though. There is still an empty property... and we must now work hard to find the right fit for this location."
"Corporations are making a decision about our community without even being here. ... We need to strengthen our neighborhoods and find incentives for people to invest in their homes," Council President Ken Siver was quoted as saying. "If it takes a little longer and that property is vacant, I'm sorry, but I understand it."
Siver, and his colleagues on the City Council complimented city residents for their due diligence during the public hearing process. "We don't all agree, but we had very civil discourse," Siver said.
Another Councilor, Jeremy Moss, told residents: "I don't want to look back and say we took the first development project that came our way." The day after the vote, all Wal-Mart could muster to say was they were "disappointed" by the near unanimous vote against their project.
"We listened to residents and elected officials and incorporated that feedback into a plan that was well within city zoning ordinances," a Wal-Mart spokesman said in a written statement. "What's more, our proposed store would have been consistent with the city's master plan for continued retail development along the Southfield Road corridor. It's unfortunate that residents won't be able to benefit from an additional 300 job opportunities and new, fresh food options along 12 Mile and Southfield roads."
Unfortunate for who? It's not clear how Wal-Mart could promise 300 "additional" jobs, since most Wal-Mart sales are captured from existing merchants, and can lead to job losses, not gains. But neighbors who live near the site made it abundantly clear to public officials that they were not in favor of the rezoning.
One neighbor told the crowd, estimated at more than 200 people, "The costs overshadow the advantages of B3 zoning." But a spokes person from the Archdiocese of Detroit, admitted that the church was eager to sell to Wal-Mart, and would have benefitted financially from the sale. "Analysis shows the best use of the property is commercial use," he told council. The Archdiocese complained that the empty church building has been for sale for 5 years."It has been in the market as a commercial property ever since it was closed," the spokesman was quoted as saying by the C and G news. "We are looking at our stewardship, trying to maximize that property to carry on the missions not just in Southfield but in the area." But he also admitted, "I have a long list of interested parties, including religious organizations."
The City Council suggested to the Archidocese that perhaps their asking price for the property is a major reason why the property has not sold.
What you can do: Now that the Council has rejected Wal-Mart's rezoning, the property must be used for residential or religious purposes. Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence told the newspaper, "I'm sad. I don't know what to do with the vote tonight. We keep adding to the list of vacant and abandoned buildings."
Readers are urged to email Mayor Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Lawrence,
Don't be sad over Wal-Mart's demise in your city. It's actually the best economic news your city could have. Wal-Mart does not arrive with jobs. It's a form of economic displacement, not economic development.
You boast that Southfield has a "wide array of shopping opportunities." You don't need to add these big box sprawling centers into the mix. Your city motto, the "center of it all" does not have to change into "the center of sprawl." You can proceed to do more economic development in Southfield that actually adds new jobs.
So help the church find a new developer for its land. Residential housing is what is compatible with the area. Remember: Wal-Mart chose this land knowing it was not properly zoned, and that was their first mistake. It's time to move on in a more positive direction -- one which your residents can support!"