Last June, Sprawl-Busters narrated the story of Thornton, Colorado’s victory over a Wal-Mart rezoning. But like a weed with deep roots, Wal-Mart keeps coming up through the cracks. Here’s a report filed this week from activists in Thornton: “A year ago, Thornton residents were celebrating their victory over Wal-Mart after the city council overturned its previous decision to rezone an area near 136th and I-25. At that time, a spokesperson of Residents for Thornton stated, “We are not opposed to growth, we welcome it. We just want it to be appropriately planned growth.” Over 5,000 signatures of Thornton residents on a petition to stop Wal-Mart supported that statement. Mayor Noel Busck of Thornton and the Thornton City Council have decided to try again, and unless Thornton residents rally quickly, they may very well succeed. On Tuesday, July 25th, the council voted to rezone the northwest corner of 128th and Quebec so that a “big box” could be built. Many residents of the Riverdale/Quebec Run neighborhoods testified stating that they had specifically checked the zoning in the area and bought their homes based on the information that vacant lots were zoned for single family housing or “community retail”. While the city council was “sympathetic”, they voted 7-2 in favor of the “big box”. Mayor Noel Busck and the Thornton City Council have obviously learned a great deal from their experience a year ago. First, they have learned to use the words “big box” rather than Wal-Mart. The word “Wal-Mart” was never used during the public hearing by any city official. However, there are only a few stores that will actually occupy a “big box” – Wal-Mart, Sam’s, Costco, Super K-Mart, and Super Target. Next, while the City of Thornton stated that they notified residents within 1,500 feet of the area that is being
rezoned, they used county assessor records which are only updated every few years. Since the subdivisions in the area are new, many homeowners in the area never received notice. By the time the residents in the area learned of the re-zoning, there was no time to
organize to stop the city council. Even when residents testified that they lived in the 1,500 foot area and did not receive notice, there was no call to delay the vote. Finally, when the public hearing continued into the late hours on Tuesday, July 25th, Mayor Busck continued the hearing so that he could call for a vote that night, thus limiting the amount of time any groups would have to organize and stop the rezoning. The second reading on this issue is on Aug 9th at City Hall. The residents of Riverdale and Quebec run are planning on showing up in big number and opposing it.”
The Mayor’s plan to rezone will likely lead to a courtroom, not a grand opening. Residents in Thornton who live near the site can probably sue the city for not properly notifying them about the rezoning vote. They can also sue if the rezoning is approved, and take the issue to court, causing a six month to one year delay. In the end, the city always loses when it fails to listen to its own constituents. Big box retail will hurt the largest investment these homeowners have made, and they will try to protect that investment from bad land use planning. The Mayor and Thornton city officials should insist that residential land not be rezoned for any big box store. The big stores should be downsized to a scale that is compatible with Thornton’s small city character, and located on land clearly designated for commercial use. If the Mayor didn’t hear the voters this time around, hopefully he’ll hear them loud and clear in court.