The incredible vanishing Wal-Mart is gone from Independence Township, Michigan, leaving not even a shadow behind. After citizens gained national attention on Sprawl-Busters for proposing a local tax to raise money for a legal defense fund against big box retailers, a township official told residents earlier this week that big boxes have been dropped from a proposed 72 acre rezoning development near Sashabaw and Waldon roads. According to the Clarkston Eccentric newspaper, Township Supervisor Dave Wagner told a packed crowd at a public meeting that “(Developer) Mr. (Randy) Orley assured me, ‘No big boxes. Wal-Mart is not happening, it’s not in the plans.” The Citizens for Orderly Growth (COG) gathered more than 1,000 petition signatures asking the board for a special election in November to levy a one-time, half-mill tax, which would have raised $750,000 for a legal defense fund to be used when and if a big box development was proposed. The township board is discussing the legal defense fund idea with its attorneys and the Michigan Township Association, before voting on whether to put the legal defense fund proposal on the November ballot. The COG has not ruled out the possibility of a legal defense fund proposal on a future ballot. COG even offered to pay for the $25,000 needed to hold a special election on the tax plan.
The issue of big box development in Independence, Michigan is far from over. If not on this 72 acre parcel, it will affect other parcels, at other times. So the announcement of “no Wal-Mart” while welcomed today, is not the final answer for tomorrow. Some communities have insurance against litigation, which allows them to stand up to large developers who threaten them with lawsuits. But for now, in Independence, citizen activists have forced a developer to publicly back away from Wal-Mart, leaving the township independent of big box sprawl. For earlier stories on this issue, search Newsflash by “Independence.”