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2000-12-19
London, OH. Food Fight Over Krogers

Residents in the small Ohio city of London have gotten into a food fight with the nation's largest grocery chain. Krogers wants to abandon its "old" store nearby, and put up a new 58,000 s.f. store on 13.5 acres of farmland. The land just happens to be zoned incorrectly -- but developers are trained only to see opportunity, not zoning classifications. This doesn't digest very well with at least 3 neigbhorhood groups that have organized to push the food giant off this parcel on Lafayette Road. Kroger also plans a gas station and other retail on the site, according to the Columbus Dispatch newspaper. "These people are extremely serious about stopping this," a lawyer who has been hired by neigbhors told the Dispatch. "Nobody is against Kroger. We are against Kroger going in the middle of a residential neighborhood when plenty of other land already zoned for business exits elsewhere in London." City officials have tried to assuage residents that the huge project will not adversely affect the value of their residential property, but neighbors aren't swallowing it. According to the Dispatch, this kind of corporate/citizen confrontation over superstores is growing in frequency. "Citizens used to go to meetings in groups of two or three," an official from the Ohio Municipal League told the paper. "Now they show up in groups of 20 or 30. They are organized and they often have an effect on what's being done. That definitely a change from the past." But the article cites a couple of recent cases where Goliath beat David. In Heath, Ohio, a Lowe's home improvement store managed to rezone land for a store, and Home Depot is building in Orange, Ohio. City officials often side with developers, seeing the battle as just a NIMBY issue. "This was a win-lose situation," said a Heath official about the Lowe's win. "We rezoned and Lowe's came in. About 98% of the city won, and 2% of the city -- the folks in that one neighborhood -- lost. Sometimes that just can't be helped." In London, residents have warned that they are willing to go to the ballot if the city votes to rezone. The Kroger plans came right on the heels of plans to build a Meijer's store. "We hope Kroger is out there actively seeking sites better-suited for a retail grocery store," explained David Jackman, the citizen's lawyer. "We hope they've gotten the message."

What you can do: Unfortunately, citizens will first have to get the message to Steve Hume, the city's Safety Service Director, who doesn't believe "there's ever been a case" where big commercial development lowered nearby residential values. The residents on Lafayette Road don't need an appraiser to tell them that their homes will sell for less if they are in the shadow of a large asphalt and concrete mall. Hume told the Dispatch: "There have been multiple changes in zoning there to meet the demands of growth. We'll decide if more are necessary." If city officials adopt the "98% win, 2% lose" mentality found in Heath, Ohio, and forget that a city is just a collection of neighborhoods, then London, Ohio will have no zoning at all. Ad hoc, or designer zoning is what the developers want. But the 2% losers add up, and before you know it, London is a nice place to shop, but not a place you want to live in. The "demands of growth" should be balanced by the "demands for quality of life". Kroger has 100 stores already in the Columbus area -- but there is only one London. Once the small town feeling is lost, Kroger can't sell it back to neighbors at any price. The city can protect the 2%, and create a win-win situation by encouraging growth that is appropriate in scale and location with the surrounding community. It's not how big you grow, but how your grow big.










 
 
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