A proposed Wal-Mart supercenter in Jefferson, Wisconsin has become one of the most exposive issues in the history of this small southern Wisconsin community. Sprawl-Busters has been following this case for three years, since we spoke at a rally there in 2003. Now a Judge has temporarily thrown a wrench into Wal-Mart’s plan to build in Jefferson. Here’s an edited report from the frontlines from Michael Horne, whose website, www.milwaukeeworld.com contains the full story: “The tide turned against the giant Wal-Mart Corporation and its plans to annex 22 acres to the City of Jefferson, Wisconsin for the purpose of constructing a store in that community when a Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge placed on hold any annexation for at least 45 days. Wal-Mart’s plans were central to a recent recall election in Jefferson that forced Alderman David Olsen (who voted against annexation) from his seat on the Common Council in that city. The pro-Wal-Mart forces may have thought that Olsen’s removal would be sufficient to allow them to proceeed with plans to annex 22 acres at the intersection of Highway 26 and County Highway K for the purpose of building a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the property. The plan was first introduced in November, 2002. They were wrong. The pro-Wal-Mart forces were dealt a blow on Wednesday, December 28th, 2005 when Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge John Ullsvik granted a temporary injunction “prohibiting the defendants, City of Jefferson and Common Council of the City of Jefferson from proceeding with the annexation of a parcel of land over (15) fifteen acres while the mandamus action cited in the above-referenced case for a direct legislation petition is pending in the City and County of Jefferson.” The “direct legislation” was filed by The Coalition for a Better Jefferson on October 10, 2005, immediately after the organization filed as a political group. According to Section 9.20, Wisconsin Statutes, “a number of electors equal to at least 15% of the votes cast for governor at the last general election in their city or village may sign and file a petition with the city or village clerk requesting that an attached proposed ordinance or resolution, without alteration, either be adopted by the common council or village board or be referred to a vote of the electors.” The number of signatures required was roughly 307, based on the 2002 gubernatorial election turnout in the city. Four days after being formed, the Coalition offered for filing 456 signatures on the Petition attached to the direct legislation to the City of Jefferson City Clerk, she certified the petition as having 365 valid signatures on October 21 and referred the matter to the Common Council, which then had 30 days to either vote to adopt the ordinance, or set the matter for referendum, according to law. State law apparently does not apply to the Jefferson Common Council, which, on November 15th, by an 8-0 vote, refused to adopt the Direct Legislation Petition or refer it to a vote of the electors, stating that the petition presented matters that were “improper subjects for direct legislation.” This Supreme Court ruling by the Jefferson Common Council led the Coalition and its attorneys David Halbrooks, and Midwest Environmental Advocates, Inc. to file the writ of mandamus demanding the referendum. But, while the writ would be pending, there was a chance — indeed, a likelihood, that the city could proceed to annex the property, as soon as the first week of January, 2006. Indeed, the City Plan Commission included the matter on its December 14th, 2005 agenda. The direct legislation would require “environmental, traffic, community and infrastructure impact studies for annexation proposals dealing with more than 15 acres of land.” It would also directly address the issues heard across the country that Wal-Mart tends to cause communities to lose more jobs than they gain. The legislation would also require a study of ” the economic impact of the lands to be annexed by the City on local businesses and residents, including any new jobs that will be added to the local economy, the amount of local labor to be used, the amount, type and location of potential development and the impact of changing land use patterns and the potential for development pressure on surrounding neighborhoods, particularly in the City.” This is a serious setback to the Bentonville, Arkansas retailer and to its bands of supporters across the country. Likewise, it is a victory for antisprawl advocates and for the laws of Wisconsin that rather explicitly state that even legislative bodies as mighty as the Common Council of the City of Jefferson must obey state law when citizens properly file motions for direct legislation.
For more background on Jefferson, search Newsflash by the name of the city. For more background on Michael Horne’s work, go to http://www.milwaukeeworld.com/blog/