On January 10, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had been defeated in Wichita, Kansas — but that the battle was far from over. At the time, Mayor Carlos Mayans reportedly wanted the project continued, not denied, to give Wal-Mart time to buy-out the neighbors, and to firm up a land deal Wal-Mart was offering to buy extra land for an elementary school. “We didn’t even give them every opportunity to work it out,” said one council member. “I wanted to give them that chance.” It turns out that Wal-Mart is likely to get that second chance. After the City Council voted in January to deny Wal-Mart’s request to build a supercenter, many residents applauded the decision. The City Council cited resident concerns and unanswered questions when they turned down the proposal. But according to the Wichita Eagle, some area residents have decided to sue the city council to try to reverse its decision, calling the Council’s vote “unlawful, arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.” The lawsuit was filed in Sedgwick County District Court. The plaintiffs note that the city’s planning department approved the retailer’s plans. The residents claim in their lawsuit that most of the residents in the adjoining neighborhood support the store, and that the opposition of residents “is lawfully insufficient for denial of these applications.” Some residents of Wichita seem to think that land use decisions are basically a popularity contest, and the group that says it has the most members should win.
The burden of proof that local officials were “capricious” now falls on the plaintiffs. In such cases, it is often a party with a vested interest that lines up plaintiffs to challenge a city vote. The absurdity of this challenge is that Wichita already has 5 supercenters, so those residents addicted to cheap Chinese merchandise do not have far to travel to find it. The lawsuit by area residents will now cost Wichita taxpayers money to defend. The key here is that the city council has already stated that it is willing to consider an amended proposal. Seen in that context, the lawsuit makes more sense as a bargaining chip. If the city council warms up to an amended Wal-Mart plan, the plaintiffs will offer to drop their lawsuit. Legal action always represents a form of intimidation. In this case, it will serve as another pressure point on the city council to ultimately give Wal-Mart what they want: a sixth superstore in Wichita, when one store was one more than enough. “There are many of us not really opposed to Wal-Mart,” one resident, who lives across the street from the proposed store, told the newspaper. “But we didn’t really want them in our front yards.” Although this lawsuit may not go anywhere, Wal-Mart will use it as leverage to locate their store into the front yards of the objecting neighbors. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by “Wichita.”