Rule #1 at Wal-Mart is that “the customer is always right”. Rule #2 is; “If the customer happens to be wrong, refer to Rule #1.” If only Wal-Mart would apply the same rules to communities as it applies to customers, the community of Manhattan, Kansas would be spared some money and aggravation. In an August 27, 1999 newsflash (see below) we reported that City Commissioners had voted unanimously to turn down a Wal-Mart rezoning request for a 150,000 s.f. superstore. In response, lawyers for the project’s developers (who cutely call themselves the “Manhattan Project, LLC”) are suing the city. The developers came before the city to get a parcel of 24 acres rezoned from commercial and residential to a “planned unit development”. The lawsuit contends that the city commissioners did not apply the appropriate zoning criteria when they made their decision, and that they did not apply those criteria “in a rational and reasonable manner”. To say it in a different way, the Manhattan Project people say the Commissioners were irrational and unreasonable because they voted not to rezone the property. The developer goes on to state that the city’s decision was based on “several improper and illegal factors, including a plebiscite of neighbors and business owners”. They also claim that the commissioners were wrong to say that this massive project was out of line with the City’s Comprehensive Plan. The developer claims that a 150,000 s.f. supercenter “fits the character of the neighborhood” and would not have a detrimental effect on the area. Area residents responded to the lawsuit by asking to be able to join the case — but on the side of the city. 14 neighbors of the proposed supercenter asked the courts to allow them to intervene in the case as defendants. The residents oppposed to Wal-Mart “feel that they have an interest in the matter being litigated, and they want to make sure their interest is represented” the lawyer who is representing them told The Manhattan Mercury newspaper. The neighbors want to be part of the case to make sure the city doesn’t try to settle with the developer in a way that harms the residents. Wal-Mart’s local attorney has asked the judge not to let the citizens join the case as defendants. From the neighbors’ perspective, this Manhattan Project is a total bomb.
None of this would be happening if Wal-Mart, which already has stores in Manhattan, said to the developer: “You can pursue your legal wrangling with the city, but we’re out of here!” Sam Walton said he would leave a town that didn’t want Wal-Mart rather than create a fuss. There is no legal mandate on the city to rezone land for any developer just because the developer wants the land to be rezoned in order to maximize their profits. Wal-Mart Rule #1 should be: The Community is always right. In the case of Manhattan, KS, the community rejected Wal-Mart. So who is being irrational and unreasonable at this point — the city or the developer? And for Wal-Mart to argue that citizen plebiscites shouldn’t be considered in these cases is curious from a company that more and more is using the ballot as a way to try and win their case at the local level, as in places like Eureka, CA and Tucson, AZ.