On the evening of October 27th, Wal-Mart’s plans for a superstore in Crystal River, Florida were shattered. A plan to annex more than 500 acres into Crystal River was smashed by a 3-2 vote of the City Council. The Council’s vote rejected a consultant’s study, and members made it clear they don’t want the annexation plan, which began three months ago, to reappear. Tom Dawson, a leader of the Citizens Opposed to Realticorp Annexation (CORA) told the St. Petersburg Times: “I think it’s a big victory for the citizens of Crystal River. ” The Crystal River veto is the second time the Realticorp developer has faced rejection. A superstore plan was rejected earlier by the county, because the site did not provide enough of a buffer from nearby wetlands. The developer is expected to go back to the county to renegotiate, now that annexation is dead. The first location Realticorp tried has a religious problem as well: a Catholic Church owns a strip of land needed to gain access to the proposed Wal-Mart, and the church apparently does not feel inspired to sell their land for a Wal-Mart. The annexation plan began with a 250-foot-long strip bordering the city west of U.S. 19 and then ran alongside the highway before crossing onto the Realticorp land.Several Council members were concerned about wetlands on the property, and the economic costs and benefits to the city. The group CORA argued that the annexation created an enclave prohibited by state law and failed to meet standards for contiguity. The group made it crystal clear they were willing to litigate if the city approved annexation. After the vote, one Council member said of annexation: “It is dead, dead. I felt we voted the way we did for the right reasons.” The Mayor of Crystal City, Ron Kitchen, was unhappy with the city council’s vote, and blamed CORA for cutting off full public debate on the issue. “We told the city manager back in August, “Spend what’s necessary, do what’s necessary, make this annexation happen,’ ” the Mayor told the St. Petersburg Times. “Then, after thousands of dollars were spent, they voted against it. It’s an absolute waste of taxpayers’ dollars. I’m just disappointed, but that’s just the way it goes.” For now, the vote in Crystal River did not go Wal-Mart’s way.
Citizens have won the first victory in Crystal River. But the developer owns 200 acres, and no doubt will begin bargaining with city officials to try to get them to be more favorable to the annexation process. Anyone who has watched Wal-Mart and its developers in action, knows that these projects spread like crab grass, and unless you pull them out by the roots, they will sprout up again.