On January 18, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was trying to convert its discount store into a superstore in Glen Carbon, Illinois. According to the Belleville News-Democrat, the idea of adding 80,000 s.f. to the existing Wal-Mart “isn’t a popular idea with some residents.” Wal-Mart wanted to add all this space inside their existing parking lot. The village Planning & Zoning Commission approved the build out. But a group called the Concerned Citizens of Glen Carbon came out against the zoning variance required for Wal-Mart to expand. “I don’t see giving them another advantage to clutter up the neighborhood. All the other businesses have to comply with the (zoning) codes,” said one member of the Concerned Citizens. The owners of the shopping center, THF Properties of St. Louis, said any displaced business in the shopping center would be relocated. The Village Board voted to support the plan. But then on December 11, 2007, we updated the Glen Carbon story to report that Wal-Mart’s expansion plans were dead. Mayor Rob Jackstadt told the St. Louis Dispatch that Wal-Mart had withdrawn their supercenter expansion plan. That was great news for the citizens who filed a lawsuit against the Village, the Glen-Ed Citizens for Fair Growth. The group had charged that the supercenter plan would not have enough parking, would increase traffic congestion, and hurt smaller businesses in the Village. The group posted the following message on its website when word came out that Wal-Mart had withdrawn: “Congratulations to the residents of the Village of Glen Carbon. You made your opinions known and your voices heard. And as a result, Wal-Mart has withdrawn their proposal to turn our store into a SuperCenter. The Village of Glen Carbon has received a letter from the Wal-Mart Corporation stating their intention to withdraw the proposed SuperCenter plan. Once that is official, the GlenEd Citizens will withdraw the lawsuit against the Village with pleasure.” The Mayor had insisted that the community lawsuit had nothing to do with Wal-Mart’s decision. “We obviously disagree,” the citizens wrote. “While Wal-Mart has been taking SuperCenters off the table across the nation, one can hardly believe that the intense controversy surrounding our particular store had ‘nothing’ to do with the decision. What is a shame is that our community action had nothing to do with the Village Board decision. I hope we all remember that in early 2009 when we elect a new Mayor and replace several members of the Village Board.” The Mayor released a statement to the media saying Wal-Mart’s collapse was not related to the lawsuit. “Indeed, nationally Wal-Mart has decided to moderate the growth of its Supercenters,” the Mayor said. “We expect that the lawsuit will be dismissed as moot.” This week, it was announced in the News-Democrat that the court had, in fact, dismissed the lawsuit. “The city accepted the withdrawal upon receipt and agrees that the withdrawal includes voiding the parking lot and signage variances,” states the agreed-upon court order filed last Friday. “If the site plan and the variances are gone, what is there to fight about now?” said Penni Livingston, the attorney for plaintiffs. “It was a public safety issue in granting a variance for the parking lot,” Livingston told the newspaper. “It reduced the number of parking spaces by more than 300 when the traffic study, commissioned by THF, showed that the parking lot has had up to 60 car accidents a year with its current design.” So almost a year to the day, this battle in Glen Carbon is over.
Glen Carbon Mayor Rob Jackstadt would not comment on the lawsuit dismissal. THF Realty signed off on the lawsuit dismissal. This is a major victory for a group of citizens against one of the most powerful developers in the country. THF will now be forced to simply remodel its store, instead of building an addition one and a half times the size of a football field. THF Realty of St. Louis, planned to demolish part of the existing shopping center, including a movie theater and about 20 small shops. THF was founded in 1991. It owns 100 properties comprising more than 20 million square feet of leaseable area in 23 states. A concentration of THF properties exists in Missouri, Illinois, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The company says its mission is to be the “best private developer in America.” The Chairman of THF is Stan Kroenke, a co-owner of the St. Louis Rams, and owner of the Denver Nuggets and the Denver Avalanche. In 2003, Forbes magazine listed Kroenke’s net worth at $1.4 billion. Building Wal-Marts is a family affair for Kroenke. He married into the Walton family. His wife Ann is the daughter of Sam Walton’s brother Bud, who died in 1995. Ann Walton Kroenke is one of the richest women in America. The citizens in the tiny Village of Glen Carbon stood up to Wal-Mart and Kroenke, and in the end, the citizens were the ones left standing. To read more about the group, go to http://www.glenedcitizens.blogspot.com/