On August 8, 2002, Sprawl-Busters reported that residents in Monroe and Union County, North Carolina had successfully kept out a Wal-Mart supercenter by challenging their permit in Superior Court. But the retailer then sued Union County officials in a last ditch effort to get by litigation what they couldn’t get by regulation. Wal-Mart told the Charlotte Observer it had to sue. “It’s not something we were eager to do,” Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris said. “It was a very difficult decision, but we felt we had no other options.” Wal-Mart claims it filed suit because they weren’t receiving any response from the county on why a special-use permit was necessary. Fast forward five years, and the scene shifts to a North Carolina Court of Appeals in Raleigh. Citizens have spent more than $250,000 on a fight against the 206,000-square-foot superstore proposed for the Marvin-area. Union County Superior Court ruled in favor of the Wal-Mart opponents and the county, but now the case has come before three appeals judges, who will rule on the case in the next two to four months. If Wal-Mart loses, it could appeal again to the North Carolina Supreme Court. In March of 2006, a Superior Court judge ruled that the Union County Board of Adjustment had improperly awarded Wal-Mart a permit to build their store. The judge in that case found that the Wal-Mart plan approved by the board had been modified significantly from the original proposal, and thus required a new approval process. The Superior Court said the board’s decision to approve the permit “was arbitrary and capricious.” Now Wal-Mart is seeking to overturn that ruling. Wal-Mart claims that residents requested many of the changes made to the store plan, and that such changes did not affect the Wal-Mart’s “character and nature.” But a lawyer for Union County, which supports the residents in their fight against Wal-Mart, said that neither the county nor residents requested any changes. “We wanted the plans denied,” the county attorney said. “Almost everything on this plan moved,” he said. One Appeals court judge asked the county why it was against the decision of its own Board of Adjustment. The county explained that the BOA was an independent quasi-judicial board that made decisions the county itself could not overturn.
Regardless of what the Appeals Court rules, the citizens in Union County have already won a tremendous victory against the largest retail corporation in the world. They have put Wal-Mart in limbo for roughly 5 years, costing the company as much as $500 million in lost sales at that location. The citizen plaintiffs won their first case at the Superior Court level, when most observers thought the residents had no chance. Now Wal-Mart is having to force its day in court. It is significant that local homeowners have managed to raise a quarter of a million dollars to go toe-to-toe with Wal-Mart through the appeals process, but it just shows the determination and resourcefulness of people when they are fighting for their own property, and for the character of their own community. Wal-Mart is like an invading army, and the locals have taken up arms for half a decade — keeping their corporate-funded opponent at bay.