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2001-03-30
Mason City, IA. City Sued Over Wal-Mart

Mason City, Iowa holds the Guinness Book record on number of times they have rejected a Wal-Mart. The city's Planning & Zoning Commission has turned down the "Indianhead Farms" rezoning no less than three times (see newsflash for 5/17/00 and 8/18/00). After the P&Z rejected a rezoning from agricultural to C-A (arterial commercial), the developer appealed to the City Council, which needed to get 5 votes the overturn the P&Z. Despite the unswerving support of Mayor Bill Schickel, the Council could not get a supermajority vote. Normally the developer would have to come back a year later to reapply, but the Mayor then introduced the rezoning article on his own, but again the P&Z rejected it, and again the City Council could not muster a supermajority. So the 4 Wal-Mart boosters on City Council decided if the rules don't get you what you want -- change the rules. So they voted to overturn the supermajority requirement if they overturn a P&Z vote. Now, with just a simply majority vote, the Council brought the rezoning back to the P&Z, which rejected it a third time, but the Council then passed the rezoning 4-2 in March, 2001. This whole process took 14 months to unfold. Now, Tim Latham, who owns a furniture store in downtown Mason City, through his attorney Colin Murphy, filed this week a petition asking the courts to annul the rezoning because 1) one of the city councilors has a business relationship/conflict of interest with the developer (he writes insurance for the developer) 2) one council vote was invalid because one of the 4 votes needed was counted by phone from Arizona. 3) the Wal-Mart plan is not consistent with the City's Comprehensive Plan. Latham's complaint says that the Council's action was "illegal, unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious." The petition says the councilor with a conflict presents "an intolerable appearance of impropriety" and was unknown to the public. The Mayor told the local newspaper he would "vigorously defend the interests of the people of Mason City." Latham says the Wal-Mart supercenter will have a negative impact on "traffic, business and property values."

What you can do: What must the people of Mason City be thinking? After 14 months of rancorous debate, 3 negative votes from their own P&Z, and a City Council that changes a 1980 law in the middle of a zoning case, the Mayor is still talking about what's best for Mason City. The Mayor even produced his own economic impact study that showed the Wal-Mart store would create a windfall for the city. But business owners like Tim Latham know better. They say the Mayor's study has no validity, and that the plan does not conform to the city's Comprehensive Plan. After 14 months, all the residents of Mason City got was a Planning & Zoning board unconvinced of the benefits, and a lawsuit against the Council, charges of conficts, and calls from Arizona. It doesn't get much stranger than this one. For a copy of the petition filed by Attorney Murphy, contact info@sprawl-busters.com










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

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