The City Council in Huber Heights, Ohio was in a big hurry the other night, because they had to deal with an “emergency” Wal-Mart proposal. According to local residents, Wal-Mart first came sniffing around last summer, when they planned to rezone a 77 acre parcel of land just north of the section of town known as Sulphur Grove. The Council gladly obliged last July, but a group of pesky citizens took the city to court, and to avoid a legal wrangling, the City rescinded their approval of the Wal-Mart supercenter in September. But now, five months later, the City Council was primed to go for it again. The developer came to the table with a “new” plan, that would encompass only 38 acres of land, but the Wal-Mart supercenter was still enormous at 203,000 s.f. The developer, RG Properties, which will lease the building to Wal-Mart, pitched the new store as one with “a more rural feel”. But it won’t look like a barn, the developer told the city. The big box is still there — but RG is going to have it painted brown, beige and hunter green to fit in with the Sulphur Grove area. The store’s gonna have all kinds of little touches that make it special, like louvers (really) and pilasters, iron fencing around the garden center, and even lightening rods. Totally cutting edge! Did we mention this “rural feel” project comes with a gas station and a 74 foot high sign? The store will also have halite lights in the parking lot instead of the sodium lights. Wal-Mart wanted the halite lights because it allows them to mount color security cameras on the store’s roofline to keep a watch for crime in the parking lot. That must have encouraged the rural audience. One Councilman was quoted in the Dayton Daily News as saying “the project is unbelieveable, greatly different from what we first saw. I really appreciate you down-sizing this project to what it is now.” The City Manager tried to spin this new design as “what we believe to be the best Wal-Mart supercenter in the Miami Valley,” That’s what developers say to all the towns. But Sulphur Grove residents were not impressed with this superficial hype. They wanted answers on traffic studies, impact on local wells, impact on surrounding property values. Ironically, Huber Heights already has a 114,000 s.f. Wal-Mart — a store which is likely to close when the new store opens, leaving Ohio with another dead Wal-Mart. There are currently 9 empty Wal-Marts in Ohio, for a total of 800,000 s.f. On Februrary 11th, the City Council voted unanimously to rezone land along Brandt Pike from Agricultural and residential to PC, Planned Commercial. But the most amazing part of the Huber Heights story is what the Council did next. After the public hearing was over, the Council voted 6-1 to waive the normal second and third reading process, which allows for more deliberation to take place, and passed the rezoning as an “emergency”, which one Council member objected to — saying the emergency clause denies the voters of Huber Heights the right to hold a referendum on the rezoning issue. Bingo! The City Council was in such a rush to get this deal done, that they wanted to seal off the residents’ right to challenge the Council’s decision. So there were no ambulances, no EMTs — but Wal-Mart was pushed through as an emergency.
Looks like democracy is on life support in Huber Heights. As one resident wrote to me: “The lawyer for the landowners tried to give a slide presentation at the Council meeting, but was cut off by the Mayor after 5 minutes. The developer and the lady from the Planning Committee were given about 50 minutes to give their presentations.” This pathetic display of the use of the “emergency” clause shows the depths to which public officials will stoop to get a bigger Wal-Mart in Huber Heights. Here comes another empty box in Ohio. For more details on Huber Heights, contact [email protected]