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2001-02-08
Overland Park, KS. Wal-Mart Voted Out.

The City Council in Overland Park, Kansas on Monday night, February 5th., became the 145th. community on my sprawl-busters list to reject a superstore. The victim this time was a proposed 204,184 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter. A coalition of neighborhood groups gathered enough support from neighboring landowners to require the City Council to approve the plan with a "supermajority" vote of nine out of ten voting members. To reach this supermajority, opponents had to get 20% of the landowners within 200 feet of the proposed site on the city side, and 1,000 feet on the county side to object to the project. When the City Council voted, Wal-Mart could only muster 7 favorable votes -- 2 votes shy of a supermajority. The land in question is zoned commercial, but in 1996 the City changed the commercial configuration of the site with the understanding that there would be more than one tenant on the land. Mayor Ed Eilert told local officials that one large store had not been planned for that property. "It's my belief had this (Wal-Mart)plan been presented in 1996, that the additional zoning would not have been granted," the Mayor told the Kansas City Star. "The proposed use, I think, is different to the extent that it doesn't comply with the plan proposed in 1996. That is my concern." More than 100 residents applauded the City Council's vote to nix the project. The newspaper suggested that the large turnout of opponents could have been a backlash to intense phone calling done in the area several days before the hearing reportedly by a public relations firm hired by Wal-Mart. According to KC Star columnist MIke Hendricks, calls into Overland Park came from a calling center in Virginia. In addition, Wal-Mart hired a p.r. firm to "identify supporters". One of the groups identified was the Kansas Taxpayer's Network, which normally gets involved only in statewide issues, but in this case the KTN lobbied hard for the Wal-Mart store. Wal-Mart admitted to Hendricks that the retailer had "certainly engaged the KTN and educated them." Wal-Mart's p.r. agent was not even from Kansas, but was based in Des Moines. At the public hearing, the Mayor assured residents that the City had nothing to do with the phone calls. Councilman George Kandt, who voted against the plan, said he did not believe that "a large box" fit in that location, and that Wal-Mart did not fit the "character of the neighborhood". Even some of those who voted for Wal-Mart did so with back-handed compliments. "I will openly say I don't like Wal-Mart," said Councilman Tim Owens, who voted yes. "I have a personal philosophy they have done more damage to small-town America than any other large entity." How's that for a ringing endorsement? Wal-Mart's lawyer tried to argue against the concept that the land had been designed for multiple tenants, not just one. "I'm selling the same merchandise in this store," the lawyer said. "The significant difference is rather than having seven doors, I'm going to have four doors." But based on the Council's vote, it looks like Wal-Mart is going to have no doors in Overland Park.

What you can do: Mike Hendricks revealed to his newspaper readers the extent to which Wal-Mart will go to generate "community" support. Hiring an out of state telemarketing firm to call residents, and a public relations firm to dig up supporters. Seeking letters to the editor from such groups as the KTN. The KTN even wrote an op-ed piece in a local newspaper extolling the project. "From now on," Hendricks wrote, "when the just-us folks Kansas Taxpayer's Network says it's acting on behalf of its supporters, you might ask where those supporters rank on the Fortune 500." In Overland Park, thanks to the aggressive work of local residents, another Wal-Mart has been slam-dunked, using the rules of the city's zoning code. For more examples of Wal-Mart's use of "astro-roots" citizens groups, see the book Slam-Dunking Wal-Mart available through this website.










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

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