On April 13th, a Superior Court judge in Wake County, North Carolina set back efforts of local residents in Knightdale to block a Wal-Mart superstore from being built far too close for comfort. According to The News & Observer, Judge Henry Barnette Jr. ruled that Knightdale officials did not act improperly last year when they approved the Wal-Mart. The Citizens Against Residential Encroachment (CARE), filed their lawsuit last August, charging that Knightdale officials failed to notify neighbors of public hearings, and gave the developer variances to the town’s ordinances. The residents also charged that one councilor who voted for the project had a conflict of interest. The Judge said none of the plaintiffs were denied the opportunity to be present at any hearing, and the councilman had no substantial financial interest in the project. Sprawl-Busters reported that the Knightdale Town Council, by one vote, approved plans for “Village Park Commons,” a shopping center with about 439,000 s.f. of buildings, including 19 acres that had to be rezoned for a 206,000-s.f. Wal-Mart Supercenter. CARE said the store was much too close to residential property, and would attract crime, light and noise pollution, and hurt property values. Today, the group CARE sent out the following press release: “Obviously, we are profoundly disappointed in the judge’s ruling. This decision would allow a Wal-Mart Supercenter to be built within 100 feet of numerous family backyards. Children from these homes will be a short 10 second run away from a 1,600 car parking lot and 200,000 square foot, 24 hour, Wal-Mart. However, as we have stated from the beginning, our hopes have never relied on just this one effort. Like the residents of Hickory, North Carolina, we are prepared to drag this out as long as necessary. After more than 2 years of appeals, the Hickory residents were finally successful as Wal-Mart pulled out of the deal. With one of the best lawyers in the state, we are confident we can successfully appeal our case, if need be. We have recently heard the town is considering an alternative plan that moves the Wal-Mart farther away from the residential areas and thus reduces the glaring concerns that have forced us to fight the existing plan. We are waiting to hear which plan they will move forward with before we decide what our response will be. Our hope is the new plan will gain traction and allow us to work more closely with the Town throughout the process so we can ensure a sensible and Knightdale friendly development.”
Land had to be rezoned for this project, and the building should never have been approved this close to homeowners. The culprit here is not the developer, but town officials. They did not have to approve an incompatible rezoning, and they did not have to approve the placement of a superstore so close to homes. They left CARE with no option but to sue their own elected officials. These residents don’t have the deep pockets that the developer has, and to continue with their appeal will be costly. They should not have had to file this lawsuit in the first place, because local officials should have done a better job of protecting the rights of existing taxpayers of Knightdale. A project of this size, even if it is called a “Village,” is just incompatible with surrounding uses. Zoning should be a win-win, butd in this case, the residents clearly lose. If they are forced to, CARE has the right to continue their appeal.