Sprawl-busters in Maplewood, Missouri, a small suburb of St. Louis (9,200), report that they have a Wal-Mart battle on their hands. Here is their account: “Our city council passed two ordinances over a year ago to blight 122 homes, 12 existing businesses, a church and a 16 unit apartment complex in a phase I project to make way for a Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club. The original developer, PACE Properties, dropped out due to pressure from the residents in the buy-out area who decided they wanted THF Realty as the developer because THF was going to offer more money for their homes. A small group of residents, one in the buy-out area, decided to fight. We obtained enough signatures to force a referendum. You can read about it all on the proponents of the development (residents in the buy-out area)website, if interested: maplewoodbuyout.com. Those of us who decided to fight feel like we are sinking. We have been maligned, threatened, etc. by the residents in the buy-out and these residents have joined forces with the city. City officials, who claim the city is broke (reason for the development), sought an injunction to have a special election on Sept. 17th, but we found out that the city did not disclose information to the judge. We are filing a law suit tomorrow with the Board of Election Commissions trying to change the election date to Nov. 3. The city has broken the sunshine law several times and we are trying to address that through the courts. It’s a mess. We are also trying to hold weekly meetings for the residents (excluding those in the buy-out area because all but 6 have signed contracts with THF)to have an open forum to discuss this, but our first meeting last week resulted in the buy-out people crashing the meeting, banging on the door and a group were lead into the back with our city’s mayor. They remained disruptive thoughout the meeting. We are holding another meeting this Wednesday, trying again, but think people are afraid to come.”
It is understandable that if residents see their neighborhood is marked for commercial destruction, they will take the highest offer they can get to move out. In Maplewood, development pressures seem to have split up the neighborhood and brought family against family. This is the result of weak city planning and unfocused growth. A cash-strapped city in this case has done nothing to prevent this kind of division and rancor. How did an entire neighborhood get declared “blighted”? And what role did developers play in that process? Why are 122 families being uprooted for another Wal-Mart?. Wal-Mart, of course, sits about the fray and watches the “locals” fight it out. The leader of the homeowner’s fighting Wal-Mart’s buy-out plan is Ron Mink, who can be reached at 314-630-6465.