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2000-09-21
Arlington, TX. Wal-Mart Gone: "Just Doesn't Fit"

On September 16 (see below) the city of Kennedale, Texas acted to keep Wal-Mart's rear end out of its borders. Three days later, on September 19th, the City Council in neighboring Arlington, Texas vetoed the front end of the project that would have extended into its borders. So Wal-Mart was rejected at the front and back door. Even though the Mayor of Arlington was promoting it, even though Wal-Mart was threatening to move the entire project into Kennedale, the City Council still voted 5-4 to block a zoning change for Wal-Mart. Here's how a local resident described the action: "The Arlington City Council denied, by a 5-4 vote, a request by Wal-Mart to rezone 8 acres that would have allowed a 208,000 sq. ft. Supercenter to be constructed on 24 acres of land in SW Arlington. The site actually is split between Arlington and much smaller Kennedale. The project would have created traffic gridlock at several points, including the only intersection serving several neighborhoods. The project was near schools and school bus pickups. While Wal-Mart agreed to some 60 cosmetic changes and offered about $500,000 in street improvements, the council ultimately agreed that the size of the project and both the human and financial cost outweighed its benefits. Massive opposition from the residents including a petition with over 1,400 signatures, letter writing and calls to Council culminated in a presentation by a citizens group at Tuesday's meeting. Fifteen speakers collaborated and used their 3-5 minutes each to present a comprehensive overview of both the specific shortcomings of this project and the negative effects of big boxes in general. The close vote came about because of a complication with the neighboring town. Wal-Mart's plan called for the building to be in Arlington and the parking lot in Kennedale. Kennedale, a town of 6,000 people would have been overwhelmed, especially since some of the affected roads were also in Kennedale! Of course, Wal-Mart threatened to build a smaller store in Kennedale, with a parking lot in Arlington, if the request was denied. While Kennedale had recently passed a restrictive big box ordinance that would have prohibited construction on either side of the border, Wal-Mart's attempt to file a plat in Kennedale prior to the start of a moratorium raised a legal question that has limited precedent. Had Wal-Mart secured land use rights that superceded Kennedale's big box ordinance? Several council members voted in favor of Wal-Mart because they felt the store would go in Kennedale, (leaving Arlington) with all the problems and none of the revenue. The council felt that it would be an advantage to also be able to control the details of the project, although Wal-Mart consistently refused a Planned Development zoning that would have committed them to their promises. The residents were sure that was all a bluff and that any reasonably sized store would be unworkable on the Kennedale land. Of course, this was complicated by a questionable traffic study (refuted by a local University Engineering professor who was also a rocket scientist) and a failure of Wal-Mart to show an actual plan of the Kennedale option until the last minute. And then the Wal-Mart attorney said the Kennedale store plan was for 180,000 square feet. Without a chance to review, the vote was taken. After the vote a look at Wal-Mart's drawing revealed a 158,000 sq. ft. building without the pad sites that would have been in Arlington. The traffic count of the Kennedale site? Less than 60% that of the Arlington site. Nonetheless, the majority of the council sided with residents who said we want "Smart Growth" and not a development that "Just Doesn't Fit". We wanted Arlington to do the right thing in human terms and accept the risk. At this time the Kennedale situation has not played out, but at least even the worst case is now 40% less traffic than the defeated project."

What you can do: According to the Star-Telegram newspaper, Council member Sheri Capehart said after the vote: "It's too much of an intense use. The intrusion on the quality of life is the compelling reason to deny this case. You can massage it all you want -- it's not going to fit." The turnout at City Hall was described as one of the largest in recent memory. The issue polarized residents for more than 5 months. Many of the 200 residents who came spoke against Wal-Mart, ending their presentation with the words: "It just doesn't fit." Wal-Mart's attorney continued to suggest that now Wal-Mart will go into Kennedale to build. "The simple matter is," the company lawyer said, "whatever the ordinance is that Kennedale passed, it's too late." (This is the good corporate citizen talking?) One resident, Todd Bowden, compared Wal-Mart to having in-laws: "You want them close enough, but far enough away." .For follow-up information about the Arlington/Kennedale defeats for Wal-Mart, contact Dennis Krenzien of Citizens for Liveable Neighborhoods at krenzien1@yahoo.com










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

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