After almost six years of trying to build a store near Marvin, North Carolina, in Union County, Wal-Mart now finds itself between a court and a hard place. On August 8, 2002, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Union County Board of Adjustment had granted Wal-Mart a permit to build a 206,000 s.f. supercenter at the corner of Rea and Tom Short Roads. But residents in Monroe and Union County, North Carolina challenged that permit in Superior Court. In March of 2006, the Superior Court judge ruled that the Union County Board of Adjustment had improperly awarded Wal-Mart their permit to build. The judge 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.” But Wal-Mart kept trying to obtain by litigation what it could not get by regulation. In 2007, the case came before three judges at the North Carolina Court of Appeals. This week those judges again supported the citizens, and left Wal-Mart with no supercenter. The appeals court upheld the Superior court ruling. The court’s ruling was by a 3-0 unanimous vote. “I’m thrilled,” resident Ginger Leppert told the Charlotte Observor just hours after learning of the decision. Opponents have won this battle before in the lower courts, and are leery of Wal-Mart’s ‘rise from the dead’ legal tenacity. So instead of buying champagne to celebrate, Leppert told the newspaper, “I bought two bottles of regular wine.”
Wal-Mart now has the option of continuing its legal fight by challenging the Court of Appeals decision. To do that, it must file an appeal with the North Carolina Supreme Court by early October. But their odds are not good. According to the Observor, the Supreme Court only agreed to hear 25 of 510 petition cases — which leaves the giant retailer with just a 5% chance of even being allowed to continue. The other option — and more likely — is for the retailer to start all over by filing a new request. Wal-Mart could do this, but in addition to the enormous cost they have already incurred over the past six years, the company has also lost roughly $600 million in sales at this Union County location. The company has also lost in the eyes of its shareholders, by wasting company resources on a six year losing cause. In this way, Union County citizens have already won a tremendous battle against the world’s largest retail corporation. But local residents are ready to continue the long battle over Tom Short Road. One Union County resident wrote Sprawl-Busters this week, “We have only won part of the battle. Wal-Mart still owns the land and can re-apply for a special-use permit by modifying their original specifications. In addition, we currently have the minority vote amongst our local governmental officials and related judicial body that would hear any new Wal-Mart application for a special use permit.” Expect to hear more from Union County in its battle to control sprawl.