Wal-Mart was given a second chance yesterday in Gainsville, Florida. After being rejected May 27th. by the City Commission on a 4-3 vote for a location on 53rd Avenue, the company managed to get one of the Commissioners who voted against the plan to change his mind and ask for a reconsideration of the vote. Wal-Mart’s plans for a 207,000 s.f. superstore needed to make a land use change to the city’s comprehensive plan. One commissioner told the Gainsville Sun that he had received more calls from residents on Wal-Mart than on any other issue he had faced in his three years on the board. Usually, when a comp plan change is rejected for a location, the applicant has to wait two years to come back before the commission. But Wal-Mart got a special deal. The commissioners voted to allow the company to resubmit their plan for 53rd avenue again. The retailer was urged by at least one commissioner to consider the nearby empty Kmart building, and become an anchor tenant in the existing Gainsville Mall. This would be ironic, since Wal-Mart shoppers were the ones that killed the Kmart in the first place. The attorney for Wal-Mart predicted the company would resubmit its plans within two weeks, but raised little hope for reuse of the Kmart building. The attorney said Wal-Mart prefers to own its properties, not lease them. Yet a review of Wal-Mart’s list of “available buildings” across the country shows that they rent two-thirds of their properties.The manager of the Gainsville Mall suggested that Wal-Mart build a two story building, by taking over the Kmart and the retail store next to it. She said she offered the company an “extremely competitive” rent for the location. Citizen activists who have been battling the superstore, remain adamant that the 53rd avenue site is wrong for the project, which is too large for the location, would generate too much traffic, and would cause stormwater runoff issues.
Why did the Gainsville Commissioners give Wal-Mart a special allowance to come back in a second time? Why did one of the Commissioners who voted against the plan, decide a few days later to ask for a reconsideration? If Wal-Mart resubmits its plan, what will have changed with the physical layout of the site? Area residens are frustrated that the commissioners have waffled on the future of their neighborhood, while empty stores sit idle nearby. The fact that Wal-Mart doesn’t like to take ‘No” for an answer, does not mean its the commissioner’s obligation to say’Yes’.