What you can’t get by regulation, try to get by litigation. It didn’t take developer Stanley Kroenke too much time to get what he wanted from the small town of Buffalo, Minnesota. What he wanted was land rezoned from industrial to commercial so his store, a Wal-Mart, could expand into a supercenter. On April 3, 2001, newsflash recorded the vote taken by the City Council to reject the rezoning bid by Kroenke, who is a member of the Wal-Mart board of directors, and married into the Walton family. The Kroenke Group promptly sued the city, and the City Council huddled in Executive Session to discuss the Kroenke lawsuit, and by July 19th. a remarkable thing happened! The headline of the Wright County Journal-Press reads: “Wal-Mart Decision Reversed by City.” The City Council totally changed course, and rescinded their April vote of 3-2 against the rezoning, to vote 4-1 in favor of rezoning. The local paper said “an apparent show of support by Wal-Mart customers appeared to influence the Buffalo City Council..” The public does not know what the Kroenke legal representatives told Council members, but as soon as the hearing was over, Mr.Kroenke walked away with his rezoning. The Mayor told the audience at the hearing that denying Wal-Mart a rezoning was not consistent with the board’s past actions. “Wal-Mart has figured that out. That’s why they are taking us to court.” Only one Council member kept to his original vote. Steve Tryggeseth voted against the rezoning, said more than 50% of the calls he received were against the plan. At the hearing, the Kroenke Group admitted that the plan shown to the Council in April remained unchanged. Therefore it was the identical plan that the Council had rejected, citing a five point “finding of fact” to back up its decision. When word first surfaced that Kroenke was suing the city, the attorney for Buffalo was quoted as saying: “We maintain a rational basis was used for denying the zoning request. We hope there will be a hearing in court.” But that hearing never took place. The “rational basis” for their rejection must have been misplaced somewhere. At the final hearing, a local businessman, Victor Cohen, who once owned a clothing store in Buffalo, told the Council that the Wal-Mart supercenter would hurt the downtown. “When a downtown dies, the town dies,” Cohen said. He noted that the only place to get shoes or clothing now was a Wal-Mart or Target. “I love this town,” he concluded. “I would hate to see it die.” It apparently took a show of legal force to get the City Council of Buffalo to see the light.
Is Buffalo for sale? Are zoning decisions made based on who files a lawsuit, or who comes in with the best-financed legal team? The 2 City Councilors who changed their vote talked about receiving lots of phone calls and emails about the rezoning. One said “he was not informed enough” about the matter the first time. Thus, in a matter of only 3 months, Wal-Mart gets its rezoning. This is how it is done in small town America. Opponents to the plan are considering filing a lawsuit against the city. Since the Council voted once with clear reasons for its decision, a complete reversal surely appears to be an arbitrary and capricious action, since the proposal submitted to the city never changed.