A little insurrection is taking place in the community of Bristol, Tennessee over a proposed Wal-Mart superstore off the Volunteer Parkway. Here’s a report from the Concerned Citizens for Responsible Growth in Bristol: “We started our battle on Jan.28, 2002. After the city council gave final approval on March 5, we had 17 days to stop the rezoning of property to permit a Wal-Mart Super Store locating in our small town in the middle of residential areas. Signatures were gathered in sufficient number to require the city to recind the rezoning or submit it to a ballot for voting by the city voters. Wal-Mart has countered with a ‘threat’ to locate across the state line in Virginia.” After their petition was filed, the Sullivan County Election Commission declined to act on the petition aimed at reversing the rezoning of the site. According to an editorial in the Bristol News, “It should be clear, however, that opposition to the proposed supercenter is substantial, and it isn’t confined to the more than 20 households that could find Wal-Mart as their new neighbor.” Residents had to gather more than 1,100 or so signatures to present to the Election Commission . This number, however, was less than the 15 percent of registered city voters needed to call a referendum under state law. But they’re about twice the number specified under a City Charter provision allowing voters to challenge city ordinances — and put them on the ballot if the council declines to rescind them. So the controversy over Wal-Mart has now become a controversy over whether the City Charter or the state law applies in this case. The citizens have protested that on Feb. 5, when council members voted 4-0 to rezone the 63-acre tract from residential to business, they were in such a big rush they didn’t even name the company proposed for the project — despite the fact that Wal-Mart admitted it was interested in the site.
Residents say that on April 9th, the State Election Commission ruled that although their petition did not meet the state requirements for placing the issue on a ballot, it was appropriate for petitioning the city to “reconsider” the zoning change that they had approved in March. “Our petition had been presented to the city requesting that the rezoning be reconsidered,’ the group says. “Scheduled elections are in August and November of this year.” For more background on the bristling over Wal-Mart in Bristol. contact Jack Cannon at [email protected]