Local officials in Ham Lake, Minnesota have no place to put a 203,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter and gas station. The City Council this week unanimously turned down a Wal-Mart request for a rezoning. Mayor Gary Kirkeide offered the motion to deny rezoning on March 7th, noting, “When you look at the size of that property and the size of the building, it seems like it’s too intense for that property.” Another Council member said, “I don’t see where there’s a place in Ham Lake for a place like this to go.” Wal-Mart’s plans to build a supercenter in Ham Lake drew out a large force of residents in opposition, organized as the Citizens for Responsible Development, often filling up the Ham Lake Senior Center. Although Wal-Mart often calls its opponents a “vocal minority,” the Mayor of Ham Lake noted, “If we have a silent majority (for the store), they have remained silent.” Wal-Mart wanted to rezone 7 acres of land from residential to commercial, but residents said the land needed to remain residential to serve as a buffer or transition from future commercial uses. 17 acres of the land Wal-Mart wanted were already zoned commercial. But in 2003, the owner of the 7 acres in question asked that the land be rezoned from commercial to residential, which the City Council agreed to do. The Wal-Mart proposal would have reversed that decision. If the land remains residential, the town will also be able to expand its park system. On March 21st the City Council will formally vote on the motion passed March 7th. not to rezone the land for a Wal-Mart.
Skeptics say that sprawl development is inevitable, and that citizen opposition is futile because big box stores will eventually win. But in cases like Ham Lake, where public officials understand the importance of scale, and realize they do not have to rezone land for any developer, no matter how powerful, the reality is that Wal-Mart can be defeated in a very straightforward manner. Add Ham Lake to the growing list of Wal-Mart defeats.