I visited Henderson, Kentucky in October of 2000 to help local residents fight off a Wal-Mart supercenter right in the middle of a residential community. Hundreds of homes would be hurt by this project. The first Wal-Mart application was eventually denied, but Wal-Mart returned for a second time, and finally got the city and county to support their application. But the residents were not about to give up. No less than three lawsuits were filed by opponents soon after the shopping center received approval earlier this year. According to the Gleaner newspaper, the three cases were consolidated into one case. A Circuit Judge recently approved a scheduling order, which means the case should come up for review by February or March. The Henderson City-County Planning Commission approved the shopping center last May, and the Henderson City Commission blessed the plan in June. Two of the original lawsuits were filed by Richard and Marlene Curby, whose house would be impacted by the shopping center traffic. The homeowners hired an attorney to represent them, and a third suit was filed by other nearby residents who object to the development — some of whom had been part of the citizen’s group Henderson First, which challenged the Wal-Mart from day one. The attorney for the Curby’s has alleged that the planning commission and the city commission held secret meetings to discuss the shopping center’s approval, as well as the allegation that “certain planning commissioners were threatened, subject to undue influence, and pressured in order to obtain their votes in favor of the action.” The developer, GBT Realty, has objected to these charges, and didn’t want the court to let the homeowners search for such evidence of secret meetings. “The court is restricted to the evidence in the record” developed by the planning commission’s hearing, wrote an attorney for GBT Realty. “No outside evidence is required or permitted.” The judge denied the homeowner’s request to gather new information. The case will be heard based solely on the pertinent law, the planning commission’s record and the attorneys’ briefs. “The general rule (in Kentucky case law) is strictly against (gathering new evidence) outside of the administrative record,” the judge wrote in his ruling. “A review of the pleadings here indicates that this case should not be an exception to that rule…. Here, it appears that the best evidence would be the administrative record itself.”
Homeowners in Henderson have taken what would normally have been for Wal-Mart a three or four month process, and turned it into a three year expedition. If the Circuit Court decision is appealed further, it could be many more months before Wal-Mart intrudes upon the neighbors in Henderson. Even though the zoning process is stacked against residents, this community has thrown Wal-Mart’s development schedule into chaos. For more stories on this community, search this database by the name of the town.