The city of Stoughton, Wisconsin has been going through the wringer for the past year. Under pressure from Wal-Mart, the city had been resisting efforts to site a 180,000 s.f. superstore in the city, replacing the existing Wal-Mart discount store. The city finally passed a zoning limit on store size of 110,000 s.f. But in the most recent elections, pro Wal-Mart forces unseated sitting Councilors, and the result is described below in a front line report from a resident in Stoughton: “The Stoughton SuperCenter proposal has gained a new life this week. After the mega-discount store worked with a pro-supercenter group founded by township residents living outside the city to win 4 seats in the recent council election, the new, majority pro-growth council, voted on Tuesday, April 27 to lift the 110,000 sq. ft. size cap set in the Big Box ordinance that passed last fall. The elections ran on the idea that “the election is the referendum” after the
council voted in 4 seperate motions NOT to take the issue to referendum. No
referendum was seen as necessary, since Walmart never submitted a formal request for annexation of the land they’re wanting to build on: virgin farmland
outside of the city’s service area. The council set the size cap at 110,000 sq. ft. as a compromise from the originally desired 80,000 sq. ft. cap proposed by some members of the council. Walmart orginally wanted to place a 180,000 sq ft supercenter on the land, then come forward with a concept plan with a 155,000 sq ft store as their lowest
offer. Walmart threatened to relocate in the neighboring town in response to
the 110,000 sq ft cap, saying they would shut down the current, profitable
Walmart located in Stoughton already. On Tuesday, April 27, the new council moved to raise the cap to 150,000 sq. ft. and that size was then raised to the familiar 155,000 sq. ft. number, proving directly that the ordinance is being changed to cater to the retail center. The company is expected to move on an annexation request next. Other citizen groups are still trying to fight the store from building the supercenter. Stoughton already has a 40,000 sq. ft. store that is a top seller in the nation
for stores of its size.
The unpleasant lesson in Stoughton is that you have to keep on winning every battle that you’ve won. In this case, losing seats on the City Council was a setback for anti-Wal-Mart troops. But the annexation is likely to draw opposition, and could end up in court. If the annexation goes through, the store application itself also could be the subject of litigation, thus forcing Wal-Mart to wait several years to get their oversized store in the ground. For earlier stories on Stoughton, search Newsflash by the city’s name.