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2001-09-06
DeLand, Florida. Wal-Mart Lobbying for Support

Since 1997, Wal-Mart has been trying to close down its existing store in the small college town of DeLand, Florida, and build a huge, 210,000 s.f. supercenter in its place, only half a mile from the 'old' store, which opened in 1986. But a citizens' group called DeLand First has been fighting the proposal every step of the way. In 1997, the land Wal-Mart wants was annexed into the city. It's industrial zoning was converted to commercial. With elections for the City commission coming up in October, some residents want the lame duck Commissioners to just leave the issue up to the incoming Commission. But the outgoing Mayor wants to get a vote done on the project, and Wal-Mart is lobbying hard to see that gets done. Commissioner Mary Swiderski, whose term does not end in October, was elected in 1999 on a "smart growth" platform, and has expressed concerns over the scale of this project. Wal-Mart has offered to build the city a park, or make other contributions to a community project, but they are not willing to talk about down-sizing the store itself to make it more appropriate to DeLand. They have also presented no evidence that a larger store serves the general welfare of DeLand, especially since adding a grcoery is likely to negatively impact existing similar land uses. On September 13th, the Wal-Mart plan will have a public hearing, and Wal-Mart has been distributing fliers -- apparently unsigned -- telling people that their superstore, within spitting distance of the existing store, "is good news for DeLand, because it will mean more jobs, sales tax revenue, and charitable contributions for the community." None of these self-congratulatory assertions have been supported by market research. The Wal-Mart flier goes on to attack the Deland First residents as "a vocal minority of residents who oppose this project" and claims they "are trying to speak on behalf of greater Deland." So Wal-Mart is spending Arkansas money to try and do the same thing. Commissioner Swiderski recently testified at a public hearing that " This project is four years long and has caused community distrust in this commission. After spending so much on legal services why is the lack of discipline to handle this matter in the most professional way, exhibited at the point of most importance. This project has created a rift in our community and desired special attention. The city has spent unnecessary legal fees by putting a dog in a fight that truly did not involve them. They could have easily tabled this project until all legal issues were resolved. Threats of lawsuits have surfaced as ploys to encourage approval of this site plan. I am willing to go to battle for something worth while than just throwing our money away as in the past. I am willing to take a positive risk to keep our quality of life in tact...I believe the cost of city services that are necessary to support this size facility outweighs the positive fiscal impact that this facility could have on the city. I believe that the size of this facility has a negative impact on our community." Florida already has one of the highest rates of Wal-Mart "dead" stores in the nation. DeLand would just add one more such facility to a list that now numbers over 400 emtpy stores nationally.

What you can do: Residents are often shocked that companies like Wal-Mart will use the threat of litigation to get what they cannot get by regulation. But actually this is quite common. The fact is, if a local board uses its land use code and zoning code to list the findings of fact it used to reach a negative decision about a very large scale project, the courts are reluctant to substitute their judgement for that of local officials. It is only if a board acts in a "arbitrary or capricious" manner that a decision is at risk. In most cases, with the help of the city's attorney, a local board can draw up a tight decision that lists valid reasons such as concern over public safety (e.g. undue traffic congestion) or conflict with the zoning goals of the community, its character and scale of built environment, etc. and such a decision will withstand a legal challenge. The reality also is that if boards rule in favor of developments that are harmful to the public welfare, they can now expect their own citizens to sue them for not upholding the zoning ordinance. If you would like to encourage Mary Swiderski to keep speaking out for smart growth, call 904-736-3900 and leave a message not to bow to lobbying pressure or legal intimidation from Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is also targeting Commissioner Marshall Bone as well, so leave the same message for him. Wal-Mart is also asking people to write letters to the editor to the Orlando Sentinel. Your letter against the Wal-Mart project can be emailed to: insights@orlandosentinel.com. Sprawl-busters across the country reading this newsflash are urged to take a moment and email the newspaper with your message that one Wal-Mart in DeLand is one more than enough.










 
 
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