The Tallahassee Democrat newspaper called it a “surprising procedural move.” But Wal-Mart opponents in Tallahassee, Florida just called it a “victory.” The “surprise” was that the Leon County Board of Adjustment and Appeals abruptly ended the debate on a 124,000 s.f. Wal-Mart, and, with the retailer’s lawyer still standing at the microphone to speak, voted 2-1 this week to limit the size of the Wal-Mart superstore to 102,000 s.f. — the same size as the vacant Sam’s Club building that Wal-Mart moved out of. The neighbors in the Gwynndale subdivision, who hired an attorney and have been fighting the superstore, also wanted the store to be prohibited from 24 hour operations, but the Board of Adjustment would not limit hours. “We would have obviously preferred that it be denied outright, but this is probably one of the better alternatives that could have happened,” one opponent told the newspaper. Residents said the new Wal-Mart was a threat to Lake Jackson, and the Gwynndale neighborhood. Wal-Mart’s lawyers said the vote was not legal, because at least 4 members of the 7 member Board needed to vote. There were 5 Board members present for the vote, but two did not participate because they had not been at an earlier hearing when hours of testimony was presented. A 102,000 s.f. store is still 5 times bigger than the 20,000 s.f. limit on commercial developments near Lake Jackson, Wal-Mart tried to argue that the old Sam’s club being vacated was built before the new size regulations were passed, so the new Wal-Mart should not be subject to the size restrictions. Wal-Mart also promised to build a sound wall between their store and the residential neighborhood — an admission that the store would have a negative impact on homes nearby. Wal-Mart tried to put a good spin on the 18% size cut by saying, “We think it is a positive step, but it is not exactly what we are requesting.” The opponents sent Sprawl-Busters the following note following the Board of Adjustment vote: “We, the opponents — individuals living in the Gwynndale Subdivision located across a pristine ravine from the back of the old Sam’s Club, allies from the Friends of Lake Jackson organization, and over 400 Tallahassee residents who have signed protest petitions and letters, consider this a victory in our three-year battle to stop this inappropriate development. We realize that Wal-Mart, through their local attorneys, may continue the fight for a bigger building but we hope that Wal-Mart leaders in Bentonville will recognize the futility of continuing to locate a supercenter where it is not welcomed by the community. We have recently formed the North Monroe Community Alliance, Inc. and, through this non-profit neighborhood association, will continue to expand our grassroots effort to protect the environment of the Lake Jackson Basin, the small businesses in and around North Monroe Street, and our highly valued quality of life that does not include a big-box retail operation generating traffic, noise, crime and other undesirable impacts.
Once again, a community has made it clear to a developer that size cannot be unlimited. In this case, Wal-Mart was held to the same size as the warehouse club they had already abandoned — a very defensible position taken by the city. For earlier stories on this site fight, search Newsflash by “Tallahassee.” For local contacts in Tallahassee, email [email protected]