Whitehall, MI. After 2 Years In Court, Wal-Mart Starts Controversial Project
After two years of court battles, and vigorous community opposition, a Wal-Mart is being built in a small Michigan town that does not need the store at all.
Sprawl-Busters first reported on a Wal-Mart battle in Whitehall, Michigan in April of 2013, roughly three years ago. Opponents charged that a 126,000 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore was a 'shopping center,' but the developer and the township's zoning administrator said it was a 'retail store.' Whether or not the project happened hinged on how this superstore was defined.
This tiny township of 2,700 people clearly had no need for a superstore, because Wal-Mart already has two superstores within 17 miles.
According to mlive.com, Wal-Mart had 30 acres of land that was zoned "business," which allows general retail stores as a permitted use. A group called BOW NOT, which stands for "Back Off Wal-Mart -- Not Our Town," retained an attorney out of Traverse City, Michigan, named Scott Howard. BOW NOT's attorney argued that the Wal-Mart was a "shopping center" under the township ordinance, which is defined as "A group of commercial establishments, planned, developed, owned and managed as one unit, with off-street parking provided on the property."
Attorney Howard said that Wal-Mart had multiple businesses within the proposed store plus three "out lots" for other businesses, so the project is a "group of commercial establishments," and Wal-Mart owns the entire parcel. The plans also has its own off-street parking lot of 505 cars.
In August of 2013, the Whitehall Township Planning Commission voted 5-0 with two abstentions to approve a site plan for a 126,000-square-foot “superstore” on 30.35 acres. BOW NOT Opponents promised that the vote was the beginning of a long battle to block the retail development.
Neighbors argued that the project would result in light pollution from the development's lights, the possibility of increased crime, a change in the nearby neighborhoods' rural and residential character, a change in Whitehall's small-town character with its "unique, local stores," an effect on wildlife and plants on their property and loss of property value.
This week Mlive.com reports that construction of the new Wal-Mart Superstore in Whitehall Township began on May 25, with an opening scheduled for the summer of 2017. The director of the White Lake Chamber of Commerce is urging the community to begin planning for life with Wal-Mart.
The Wal-Mart controversy was in the court system for roughly two years. The Michigan Court of Appeals declined to hear an appeal of a Muskegon judge's August 2014 decision upholding Whitehall Township's approval on Feb. 10, 2015. The Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a site plan for a Wal-Mart superstore in Whitehall Township on Sept. 9, 2015.
Back in 2013, when the township approved the store, BOW NOT promised a protracted legal fight. “We will go to court to fight Wal-Mart and I expect this fight to go on for years,” on BOW NOT supporter told planning commissioners. “Every year without a Wal-Mart is a victory.”
In September of 2015, Sprawl-Busters reported that despite the decision by the Michigan Supreme Court to deny an appeal filed against Whitehall Township residents, BOWNOT members said the opposition to Wal-Mart will continue. “We believe the lower courts made critical errors that should have been heard and considered by the Michigan Supreme Court,” said Dave Frederick, chair of BOWNOT. “We understand that this decision could mean the end of litigation, but we will continue to oppose the building of a Supercenter here,” said Frederick.
What you can do: According to BOWNOT, thousands of community members have demonstrated their opposition to Wal-Mart by contributing over $65,000, which has been spent for educational and promotional materials and for litigation expenses. More than 4,000 people signed petitions opposing Wal-Mart and pledging not to shop at a Wal-Mart store.
Those shoppers now have their chance to boycott the store, and force it to close from underperformance.
To see more about the battle in Whitehall, go to: