According to the Northern Virginia Daily newspaper, residents in Front Royal, Virigina will be front and center in court next fall, in their battle to stop a Wal-Mart supercenter. A judge this week set a trial date for early September, 2004 in the citizen’s appeal of the Front Royal Town Council’s rezoning of land along the Shenandoah River for a superstore. He also ruled that the 5 plaintiffs in the case had sufficient “standing” to pursue the case in court. This means a downtown businessman and a town taxpayer were allowed to be in the case, even though they do not live in the Riverview residential subdivision that abuts the proposed Wal-Mart site. The local group, called Save Our Gateway, sued the town for rezoning 121 of residential land to commercial, so Wal-Mart could build their store. The Front Royal Town Council voted 3-0 to rezone the land in July, 2003, after months of stonewalling by a member of the Council who refused to show up to give the Council a quorum. The lawsuit claims that the Town Council disregarded issues raised by opponents about the adverse impacts of the project, and that a 184,000 s.f. store does not fit into the town’s comprehensive land use plan. Craig Laird, spokesperson for Save Our Gateway, called the judge’s decision to set a trial date “a victory for the community at large on how we shape our community.” The plaintiffs argue that the town’s rezoning was arbitrary and capricious, because it ignored the views of many citizens during the hearing process, including the fire department, chamber of commerce, the town Planning Commission, and the state Dept. of Transportation. The judge threw out the citizen’s complaint that the Council did not have a quorum when it conducted its first reading of the application. The lack of quorum was caused by one Councilor’s refusal to show up for meetings to keep the Council from taking a vote.
Save Our Gateway has already succeeded in two ways: 1) they have caused Wal-Mart to lose at least one year in their construction schedule, a loss of around $80 million in sales to Wal-Mart, and 2) they have raised public awareness that big developers can be challenged when they try to reshape the future of a community. For more history on the Front Royal battle, search Newsflash by the name of the town.