Sprawl-Busters reported on November 16, 2002, that township officials had updated their zoning code to put a limit on the size of stores in a commercial district. The Township Board passed an Architectural Standards ordinance to maintain the small town, rural look and feel of the community. The ordinance set standards for building design and size limits applicable to various types of businesses. The ordinance limited the size of C-2 business to 70,000 sq ft. We reported at the time that Wal-Mart has submitted a proposed site plan for a 150,000 s.f. store. The story on this battle over Wal-Mart goes back to 1976, when the owners of a Ford dealership bought 51 acres of residential land, and wanted roughly 8.5 acres rezoned to C-3 so they could move their car dealership out of nearby downtown Temperance. The township was adopting a new zoning ordinance, and in the process accomplished the C-3 rezoning that the family had been seeking. But in the early 1980s, the family came back to request a C-2 rezoning, allowing a shopping center or office building use. This was also approved. In 1992 the township had Monroe County Planning redo the township’s zoning map and an error was apparently made. The western half of the parcel, which had always been residential, was incorrectly listed as C-2 commercial. The error was not found until rumors began in 2001 that the family was planning to sell the land to Wal-Mart. The family now is suing Beford township. In 2003, the property owners asked the township to rezone the northern half of their property to C-3 for the purpose of building a Wal-Mart. The Monroe County Planning Commission, which does planning for Bedford, and the township board each denied the rezoning application. The family then sued the township, and took out ads in the newspaper apologizing: “We are truly sorry that we have to go to court, but we feel we have no alternative. We, the retail and commercial businesses of Bedford, are almost planned, zoned and ordinanced out of business by our current township board of trustees.” The matter has been in litigation until this month, when the township and the family presented a “settlement” that would permit the building of a 203,819 s.f. Wal-Mart superstore. According to the Monroe County News, township officials have until Dec. 11 to make a decision on the lawsuit. The public recently got their chance to see the site plan for the Wal-Mart store — plus a gas station and 7 outlots for restaurants, etc. A massive stormwater detention pond is part of the plan. “I’m not a fan of Wal-Mart,” one abutting property owner told the newspaper. “Nor do I want a Wal-Mart with its noisy trucks and lights in my back yard. I have a plat map here that says it’s supposed to be residential.” The engineers for the plan promised residents and trees and a berm would prevent residents from having to stare at the side of a giant box store. “It’s an excellent and beautiful landscaping and buffer plan,” said the property owner. “Look at all those trees. They won’t see a thing.” But the real issue here is not trees, but money. The landowner has made it clear that if he doesn’t get what he wants, he’s going after damages. “The thing that hasn’t come out of this yet is that this is a really good deal for the community as a whole,” he said. “Our agreement with [the town board] is that I’m giving up my right to claim damages against the township. I’ve been denied for five years on this sale. Plus there are attorneys’ fees and everything else. What I’m giving up is the damages and the attorneys fees and all that/ They have negotiated very well on behalf of the residents of the township, the taxpayers. If they lose, it’s a significant number. They’ve negotiated that away for the benefit of the entire community. And the budget of the entire community.” But the citizens group against this project, Bedford Watch, say the town board should not cave in to the landowner. “The township board members have the final say, period. All we have is their vote. We put them in office to be our votes… We will support them 110% if this goes to court. This isn’t a done deal.”
What Wal-Mart can’t get by regulation, they try to get by litigation. In this case, the landowners is using a lawsuit to produce a multi-million profit for his business that he claims he is entitled to, and the township says was the result of a clerical error that was never really adopted by the township. This “settlement” gives the landowner his superstore, but gives the other residents an on-going nightmare. If the residents are not represented by an attorney, they can expect the township to sell them out, not because they think the landowner is right, but because they are afraid of what will happen financially if they lose. What they ought to be concerned about it what will happen to the township financially if the developer builds. Once again, Wal-Mart is pushing a win/lose proposition, instead of picking a site that the community could accept, and at a size that people could live with.