After months of controversy, a non-binding referendum, and City Council resignations, Home Depot has hammered its way into Lake Geneva, WI — but with an important condition on their plans that may interest other communities. We presented this case on September 18 and November 17, 1999 (see earlier newsflashes), explaining how the city’s zoning code required a “supermajority” vote for stores over 60,000 s.f. Home Depot failed to get that supermajority vote, so the Mayor (who is a big booster of Home Depot) moved to change the ordinance to require a simple majority vote. The supermajority ordinance requires 6 out of 8 votes. At the end of December, one Councilman opposed to Home Depot quit the council in disgust at the politics being played, and he was replaced on the Council by someone appointed by — the Mayor — to fill out his term. The Council voted with 6 votes on January 10th. to approve the rezoning of land to allow a 121,000 s.f. Home Depot to be constructed on 30 acres of land. According to the Janesville, WI Gazette, Home Depot’s approval came with several conditions the company may not like. Councilman Sheldon Shepstone added conditions that require the store cannot be open 24 hours a day, and that the owner would be responsible for razing the building and returning the lot back to its natural state if the Home Depot goes out of business.
This “restoration of site” ordinance would be helpful for other communities to place in their zoning ordinances BEFORE they are in the middle of a big box battle. Wal-Mart, for example, is a highly moveable company, with hundreds of empty stores left behind as it phases out discount stores to open larger supercenters. If more communities insisted that such emptied stores be “reclaimed” or “restored” to their natural, pre-development state, it would discourage companies from the “lease and leave” cycle they often follow. However, Wal-Mart often will not own the land or the buildings involved, and it may be a developer or other landowner who ends up doing the restoration, because Wal-Mart was merely the tenant, so the ordinance would have to require that the owner or the tenant would be required jointly to restore the property.For more details about this ordinance, contact [email protected]