Residents in Bedford, Michigan walked out of court February 2nd with a major victory over a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter. Judge Joseph A. Costello of the Monroe County Circuit Court ruled against a Ford dealer in Bedford who had filed a lawsuit against the Township over the denial of a rezoning request for land. Sprawl-Buster’s reported on October 29, 2006 that this battle over Wal-Mart goes back to 1976, when the owners of a Ford dealership bought 51 acres of residential land, and wanted roughly 8.5 acres rezoned to C-3 so they could move their car dealership out of nearby downtown Temperance. The township was adopting a new zoning ordinance, and in the process accomplished the C-3 rezoning that the family had been seeking. But in the early 1980s, the family came back to request a C-2 rezoning, allowing a shopping center or office building use. This was also approved. In 1992 the township had Monroe County Planning redo the township’s zoning map and an error was apparently made. The western half of the parcel, which had always been residential, was incorrectly listed as C-2 commercial. The error was not found until rumors began in 2001 that the family was planning to sell the land to Wal-Mart. The family sued Beford township. In 2003, the property owners asked the township to rezone the northern half of their property to C-3 for the purpose of building a Wal-Mart. The Judge’s ruling on Friday puts plans for the 204,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter on hold. The site abuts Indians Acres, one of Bedford’s largest subdivisions, which explains why residents felt the Ford dealer was trying to run them over. In a 44-page decision, the Judge found that the township board’s actions were neither arbitrary, nor capricious. He also ruled that Bedford’s zoning law and Master Plan did not exclude big box stores. “This is great,” one member of Bedford Watch told The Toledo Blade newspaper. “It shows that a small group of people can make a difference in the township. We sticked to what we believed in to keep it a small community.” Whitman Ford now has 21 days to appeal the ruling to a higher court. The lawyer for the township told The Blade, “You are talking about the development of large-scale retail right next door, literally, to a longstanding subdivision.” Whitman Ford testified that they relied on the incorrect designation on the township’s zoning map to market their land. But Judge Costello ruled that Whitman Ford had other ways to check the accuracy of the zoning, and filed petitions multiple times to rezone the property before 1990, when it was correctly marked residential on the map. “Over a continuous and significant period of time the plaintiff not only should have known but actually knew the true status of the zoning of the property,” Judge Costello wrote.
Many people in Bedford might have assumed that the citizens group would not emerge victorious from this legal battle. But for now, Wal-Mart’s plans are in limbo. Whitman Ford has to decide whether or not it will continue to force the township to spend more money on its legal defense. Anyone in town that is considering buying a car, might ask Whitman Ford to deduct their share of the legal expenses of this court battle from the price of their car. Or, better yet, they might consider buying a Chevrolet instead. For earlier stories, search by “Bedford.”