When the Sauk Herald in Minnesota published a story about Wal-Mart coming to the small town of Sauk Centre, it set off a flurry of activity designed to prevent the rezoning of land before its too late. Sprawl-Busters received this urgent message from residents in Sauk Centre: “We are a small town (3,900 pop) in central Minnesota. We are not getting the straight info from our town government. The Chamber of Commerce is not taking a stand, nor will they even do a survey of their members. We are getting info that a super Wal-Mart is coming. Many of the local business owners and citizens know the terrible impact it will have on this community. The local newspaper has not printed any of the studies we have sent them.” What the Sauk Herald did print on May 14th. was a headline that ran, “Wal-Mart Expected To Submit Plans to City.” The story quoted City Administrator Steve Bloom as saying that the city first needed to rezone the land Wal-Mart wanted, before Wal-Mart could advance their plans. But Bloom then contradicted himself by saying the new ordinance would have no effect on Wal-Mart. When asked about concern from local merchants, Bloom said, “We certainly don’t want to jeopardize the current businesses we have.” Then he rolled over and played dead: “If they meet all the guidelines of the ordinance, it’s awful hard to stop the process. Nothing in the ordinance will keep them from moving in.” Dead before the process even starts.
Residents in Sauk Centre have only 30 days to appeal the new zoning ordinance. Citizens complained that they were not notified about the rezoning, and only learned of it through the newspaper. But the group is now consulting with a land use attorney, to assess their next legal move. The City Council could have stopped Wal-Mart like many other communities have done, with one sentence limiting the size of retail buildings. In a town with less than 4,000 people, this should have been done long ago. With such a limit in place, the big box process grinds to a halt. The town could still impose a six months moratorium to write an ordinance that balances the needs of the community, and its existing merchant base, and the needs of new developers. If Sauk Centre does not act quickly, they will become known as Wal-Mart Centre. For local contacts in Sauk Centre, contact [email protected]