On November 13, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that the Zionsville, Indiana Planning Commission had voted not to rezone 12 acres of land for a 204,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter. The developer, Heritage RDG, was seeking a “general business” rezoning, but told town officials that if they did not rezone the land, the developer would still proceed with its superstore plan. “It makes it more difficult, but it doesn’t affect our amended proposal,” a lawyer for the developer told the Indianapolis Star. Local merchants spoke out against the project. “Our hope is that the (Plan) Commission would stay the course,” said the president of the Zionsville Merchants Association. “If you look around, you can see that the retail environment is very adequate to meet our needs.” Several members of the town council members had been vocal about not wanting this development. In December of 2005, the Zionsville town council voted unanimously to support their Planning Commission, and reject Wal-Mart’s proposal for rezoning. The developer insisted again that it could build the superstore entirely on land that was already zoned for B-2 business. “As we’ve tried to express throughout the process, the parcel that was zoned B-2 permits the Wal-Mart,” said Heritage RDG, the developer. “The denial of the rezone at this stage does not impact the review of the Wal-Mart proposal.” Heritage had planned to build an 85,000s.f. center on the other 12 acres of land that was industrial and B-3 commercial. “I think we will have to decide what we want to do with our next step,” the developer added. “We’ll look at (our) legal and development options. I am exceedingly disappointed, not so much with the council as I am with the plan commission. I think they made it about Wal-Mart … the project affected had nothing to do with Wal-Mart.” At this point, Wal-Mart proceeded on its own as developer, and approached the town with a smaller store, roughly 175,000 s.f. Heritage said with a smaller sized lot available, it would have to shift to a “junior box” retailer. Heritage also threatened a lawsuit. The neighbors told the Times Sentinel newspaper that when they bought their homes, they were told this land would be used for an office park or light industrial use. At one point, the neighbors petitioned Zionsville to annex their land out of Boone County, Indiana, and into Zionsville, to protect themselves from this kind of huge big box development. When Wal-Mart submitted its plans to the town for a “reduced” store, the town Planning Commission voted in May, 2006 that it did not have jurisdiction over the land. The commission said roughly one-third of Wal-Mart’s land, was in Hamilton County. Wal-Mart then sued Zionsville in June, 2006. On March 28, 2008, almost two and half years since the project was first rejected, a Hamilton County, Indiana Superior Court issued a decision rejecting Zionsville’s claim that it did not have jurisdiction, and sending the case back to the Zionsville Plan Commission for review. The Judge said the town’s ordinance gives the plan commission authority over “plats or parts of plats” inside the town. The town now will have to decide if Wal-Mart’s plan meets the requirements of Zionsville’s zoning ordinances. Judge Steven Nation, however, gave the town one important victory. He denied Wal-Mart’s attempt to get the court to order the commission to approve the development. The town now has the option to appeal the judge’s ruling.
If the town does not appeal the court ruling, Wal-Mart will have to resubmit its plan for a review of the project’s compatibility with the local code — and that could present a real problem for Wal-Mart. In April, 2006 — before the town voted they had no jurisdiction over the Wal-Mart land, but after Wal-Mart had submitted its plans for a smaller store — Zionsville passed a ‘big box’ size cap, which limits the size of a store to 60,000 s.f. Wal-Mart’s proposal came in at 175,000 s.f. — but does the big box law apply to Wal-Mart — since the company applied for a permit before the ordinance was passed? That question cannot be answered until another question is resolved: When the court ruled that Wal-Mart’s application was remanded back to the town to review, is their application now a “new” project that falls under the April, 2006 ordinance? Because of these legal complications, Wal-Mart’s journey to Zionsville is likely to drag on for at least three years, or longer. The absurdity of this journey is that the Zionsville trade area is saturated with Wal-Marts already. There are a total of 15 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Zionsville, including 11 superstores. There are two Wal-Mart supercenters in Indianapolis, one of which is less than 4 miles from this site in Zionsville. This project is the kind of wasteful, redundant store that Wal-Mart shareholders must find discomforting. The company says it is trying to stop cannibalizing its own stores, yet here they are in Zionsville, trying to ignore obvious local sentiment to limit the size of stores, forcing local taxpayers to spend money on legal fees to fight Wal-Mart, and yet there are 11 superstores within 20 miles of this location. This is the strategic mistake that Wal-Mart continues to make, tripping over its own stores to build another superstore in a community with less than 13,000 people. Readers are urged to email Matt Price, the President of the Zionsville town Council at [email protected], with this message: “I would encourage Zionsville to keep fighting Wal-Mart’s bullying tactics, and appeal the Superior Court ruling. As you know, Wal-Mart has pulled out of many projects since last June, and the goal should be to tie this one up legally for as long as possible. The fact is, your town is surrounded by 15 Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles. If you go forward with the review, Wal-Mart should be required to shrink its store down to your size cap. Congratulations for keeping them at bay for so long.”