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2000-08-18
Mason City, IA. Wal-Mart Slam Dunked--Again

One defeat was not enough to kill Wal-Mart in Mason City, Iowa. Local officials were so eager to see Wal-Mart come to town -- even in the face of rejection by town review boards -- that they were willing to step into the breach and "act" as applicants for the project. This bizarre turn of events began after a proposed Wal-Mart rezoning was rejected in April by the city Planning & Zoning Commission, and then defeated on May 16, 2000 (see 5/17/00 newsflash) when the City Council could not reach a 5-1 "supermajority vote needed to overrule the P & Z rejection. Wal-Mart had requested a rezoning for their superstore, but when they appeared before the Mason City P & Z commission, they were rejected. The matter then went to the Mason City Council, which voted 4-2 to overturn the P&Z -- but this was not enough of a 'supermajority' vote to proceed. Then, in a most remarkable move, the City Council voted to act on behalf of the developers and ask the P&Z to reconsider their vote. In effect, the City Council became the applicant, because once the developer lost a vote, they could not apply to P&Z again until January of 2001. So the City Council became the "applicant", and asked the P&Z to do their vote over again. But on August 9th the P&Z stood firm, and said the "new" proposal brought nothing new to the table, and according to the Globe Gazette newspaper, the Commission slam-dunked the 300+ acre Wal-Mart supercenter project a second time. The Mayor of Mason City was on vacation during the August P&Z meeting, and some effort was made to pull the agenda from the table. But the P&Z voted to reject the "city plan", leaving the developer with the option of showing up again next January.

What you can do: The wrangling among city officials over a superstore is quite a spectacle for the residents of Mason City. At one point, City Councilors opposed to Wal-Mart held a press conference in the Mayor's office to announce that they had asked the state's attorney general to rule on whether or not it was legal for the City to bring the Wal-Mart vote back to the P&Z commission as the applicant. Councilman Ken Lee, who strongly opposes the project, asked the P&Z to wait for the AG ruling this fall before taking any action on the case. Lee has argued that the Council action to "pinch hit" for the developer was illegal. If the P&Z rejected the rezoning, how could the Council then vote on it, since the members would have a conflict of interest by acting in place of the developers? "It is my opinion," Lee told reporters, "that we have set a dangerous precedent and engaged in an activity that may be illegal." Councilman Don Nelson, who voted against the Council's efforts to ask for reconsideration, said that the Council's vote was 'special interest government'. "To my knowledge...this is the first time a zoning request that has been denied by the City Council has come back to the Council within 30 days after being denied. The city becoming the applicant for the development -- another first, I believe. Why all of these firsts for this specific development?" Nelson asked. So Wal-Mart has become mired in Mason City, while in nearby Decorah, Iowa, the permititng process has also been flooded with controversy (see next entry).










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

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