Wal-Mart finally drew some praise from a small town in Ohio — for pulling out. On May 30, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that a group of citizens in Liberty, Ohio were fighting for their liberty from Wal-Mart — and a federal judge had ruled that the group could join a lawsuit to defend their town’s decision to turn down a supercenter. The Liberty Township-Powell Neighborhood Watch Foundation was granted the right to become a party to the federal lawsuit over a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter. Magistrate Judge Norah McCann King of the U.S. District Court wrote that the foundation “is entitled to intervene … when it demonstrates a legal interest in the subject matter of the pending action, establishes that disposition of the action may impair or impede its ability to protect that legal interest, and demonstrates that the existing parties to the action cannot adequately protect the proposed intervenor’s interest.” The foundation is a citizens group created to oppose the Wal-Mart supercenter. The federal lawsuit they are joining was filed in November, 2004 by a group of investors, Wedgewood Limited Partnership, who own the land that Wal-Mart wanted to build on. Wedgewood sued Liberty township for denying a zoning permit for the supercenter, so the court ruling meant the citizens could help defend their town against Wedgewood’s suit. A spokesman for the town said the judge’s ruling was “a complete victory for the neighbors. The developer has consistently tried to shut them (neighbors) out of the process.” The residents charged that the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter would bring more problems than it would solve, and they say the lawsuit has no business being heard in federal court. This week, almost three years later, it looks like neighbors might win this battle in the end. The Columbus Dispatch reports that the Wal-Mart superstore is now in limbo, because the retailer let its contract expire, abandoning the 34-acre site where it had planned to build a 220,598 s.f. supercenter. Wal-Mart signed a contract with Wedgewood Limited Partnership six years ago. The option to buy the land ran out on February 28th, and Wal-Mart did not make an offer. Wal-Mart notified the landowner that they were pulling out of the deal, but would not comment further. In September, 2004, Liberty Township’s zoning board rejected Wal-Mart’s plan, ruling that the square footage and commercial acreage exceeded limits set by the township for the area. The developer promptly filed two lawsuits, one in the state, and a second in federal court. Wal-Mart’s departure will not end the lawsuits, a Wedgewood spokesman said. “I have to protect the zoning at all costs.” The landowners say they will still court Wal-Mart if they get the necessary zoning permits, but a township official took a different stance. Trustee Peggy Guzzo told the Dispatch, “I would look at Wal-Mart as a hero if they have decided not to pursue this. And we would like to work with [Wedgewood] so that he can develop his land in a manner that is consistent and compatible with the surrounding area.” Opponents of the project have been working with their own developer to present a mixed-use retail and commercial project for the site.
Liberty Township’s website says the community is “A Nice Place To Live!” “The appeal of Liberty Township is its charming semi-rural location,” the township boasts. And the mission statement for the Board of Trustees is dedicated “to maintaining and improving the quality of life for its residents. We will protect the life and property as well as preserve the Township’s natural resources, scenic areas and natural beauty.” So far, the Trustees have been faithful to that mission. It was not easy for them to deny Wal-Mart, especially in the face of litigation by the landowners. Readers are urged to email the Liberty Township Trustees at [email protected] with this message: “Congratulations to the Trustees for having the courage to stand up to Wal-Mart and Wedgewood’s lawsuits. You have protected your residents, and the township’s natural resources and quality of life. I hope this 4 year battle will convince you to put a cap on the size of retail buildings in every commercial location, so this kind of suburban sprawl development does not happen to you again. I’m pleased Wal-Mart has ended its contract the Wedgewood, and I hope you will tell Wedgewood that a huge big box store is not compatible with Liberty. Thank you all for taking a leadership role in keeping out this kind of development.”