On July 15, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that residents in Mary Esther, Florida had effectively organized to block the rezoning of land for a Wal-Mart supercenter. Residents pointed out that there is a larger Wal-Mart located just 2.3 miles away, and Wal-Mart abandoned a store located just 1.2 miles from the proposed site about 7 years ago. Wal-Mart approached the city manager about the possibility of citing a new super-store on a 10.6 acre piece of property that straddles both Mary Esther (residential zoning) and Ft. Walton Beach (commercial zoning). City officials allowed Wal-Mart to use city chambers to present their proposal to groups of residents. Quietly Wal-Mart held the first meeting with only a few residents on Kingston Court, who backed up to the property. The residents began a petition drive designed to fight not only this proposal, but any that did not fit the current zoning of the parcel. They asked people to write letters to the editor, researched the city’s comprehensive plan, ordinances, and land use plan. They wrote a Citizen Opposition Report and a power-point presentation in response to both the city report and the Wal-Mart proposal. At the hearing, they had people stationed at the doors offering large red plastic plates to people to write NO on and sign their names and carry into the hearing. They based their zoning argument on the issue of property rights. Yes, the current owners have a right to develop their property, they argued, but not at the expense of their neighbor’s quality of life or property values. The Mary Esther parcel is zoned for single-family residential use only – five units per acre, not town homes, not condominiums, and certainly not commercial businesses. The Local Planning Agency proceeded to vote 5-0 against the rezoning. But the final vote had to go to the City Council, which voted this week, unanimously also, against rezoning for Wal-Mart. “I find it incompatible with the surrounding properties,” said Councilman George Crews, who added the proposed 24-hour store was at odds with the bedroom community of Mary Esther. Council members said the city founders created a commercial district in the center of town.
Wal-Mart now has the right to appeal the council’s decision in court. “We don’t want to go to court. Nobody does,” Wal-Mart’s attorney told the Northwest Florida Daily News. “It’s going to take money and it’s going to take time.” The newspaper said local residents were not pleased with Wal-Marts threat of legal action. “I think we saw the real Wal-Mart come out tonight. They’re not cute, fuzzy little rabbits,” one resident said. “This is Wal-Mart.” Give Mayor Margaret Mclemore a phone call to congratulate her Council for drawing the line to stop Wal-Mart. You can reach the Mayor at
850-830-4960, or send the Council an email at: [email protected] For an earlier story, search Newsflash by “Mary Esther.”