Whitehall, MI. Citizens Continue Legal Battle Against Wal-Mart With Court Appeal
Wal-Mart's efforts to build a new superstore in Whitehall Township, Michigan are far from over. Local residents fighting the project have been unable to convince local township boards to deny the project, and also lost the first round in a Circuit Court. But this week the residents continued their legal battle by filing an appeal to the lower court ruling--the same thing Wal-Mart surely would have done if the case had gone against them.
Anti-Wal-Mart activists in Whitehall filed their lawsuit in the Court of Appeals against the township of Whitehall, and the Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust. The residents are seeking to have the Court reverse the Circuit Court ruling, and remand the appeal to the Trial Court for consideration of the resident's legal arguments on whether the Wal-Mart Supercenter required a special use permit approval under the Township's Zoning Ordinance.
The citizen's group BOW NOT (Back Off Wal-Mart, Not in Our Town) argues that the Planning Commission erred when it failed to require Wal-Mart to obtain a special use permit. The proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter falls within the definition of shopping center in the Zoning Ordinance.
The lawsuit also charges that the Planning Commission failed to support its findings of fact with competent, material and substantial evidence in the case record.
Thirdly, BOW NOT asserts that the Township Board voted to increase or create unlawful fees charged for appeals to both bodies: specifically, to charge a $2,020 fee for an appeal to the ZBA and to adopt a $1650 fee for appeals to the Township Board from the Planning Commission.
BOW NOT and neighbors filed the appeal challenging the decision of Whitehall Township to approve a Wal-Mart Supercenter without requiring that the project meet the Special Use Permit Criteria under the Township's Zoning Ordinance ("Zoning Ordinance"). The proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter met the definition of "shopping center" under the Zoning Ordinance, and therefore required a Special Use Permit. The Township's Planning Commission did not require a Special Use Permit ("SUP") and instead decided that the development was a general commercial establishment that only required site plan review.
BOW NOT also says the evidence presented to the Planning Commission established that the proposed Supercenter will fundamentally alter the character of the area and the Township. The proposed land use's effects are inconsistent with the Land Use Plan, will adversely impact property values in the area, will disproportionately raise public expenses relative to its public tax benefits, and will dramatically increase traffic, noise and light in the area. All of these items are inconsistent with the Township's Special Use Permit standards.
In addition, Appellants challenged the refusal of the ZBA to interpret the Zoning Ordinance, including the definition of a "shopping center." BOW NOT charges that the Circuit Court did not address the substance of Appellants' legal arguments and the lack of factual findings to support the project under the relevant SUP standards in the Ordinance.
What you can do: Readers can learn more about the history of BOW NOT vs. Wal-Mart by searching this blog by "Whitehall" or by linking to www.bownot.org, where you can also semd them a contribution to help their legal defense fund.