There is no rest for the weary in Lorain, Ohio. They beat Wal-Mart once, lost to Home Depot once — and now Wal-Mart is back at their door yet again. On November 23, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that voters in Lorain, Ohio had rejected a Wal-Mart supercenter at the polls. When a Home Depot project followed almost immediately, a group called The Friends of Anna E. Martin, named in the memory of the land’s former owner, formed to oppose Liberty Development Co.’s plans to build Lighthouse Village plaza on 65 acres. The group circulated petitions for a referendum against the rezoning. The Lorain City Council approved rezoning of the property by a vote of 9-2 in 2005, and approved the preliminary plans for the Lighthouse “Village” project. In a blatant attempt to attract political support among voters, the developer unveiled a list of potential tenants who would occupy this huge “Village”, including Target, Olive Garden, Long Horn Steakhouse, Applebee’s, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Starbucks and an International House of Pancakes. The developer also claimed (with unsubstantiated gross figures) that the project would create 950 jobs and generate $720,000 in annual real estate taxes. The Friends of Anna E. Martin said the landowner’s intention was not to build a shopping center on her land. She willed the property to the Lorain YWCA in the 1960s to be preserved in its natural state and used for women’s and youth programs. “All we’re doing now is exercising our rights and taking this to the voters,” the anti-Home Depot group said. “All we want is for the original deed restrictions to be followed in the will.” A Probate Judge ruled in 1994 that the Church on the North Coast could buy the property from the YWCA and had to adhere to the conditions of the will. The Judge also ruled the church could sell the property to Liberty Development contingent on City Council approving the rezoning. Liberty Development was also required to donate $1.2 million to local charities to satisfy Martin’s wishes in the will. The developer told the media, “We figured the residents were going to try to do something. There has been very little done with that land in the last 40 years, and there’s going to be some people getting a lot of money from this (development) who need it.” The developer ended up being the financial beneficiariy of the deal, as a Home Depot was built at Lighthouse Village, along with a Kohl’s Department store. This week, the Morning Journal reports that the community is swirling with rumors that Wal-Mart is coming back for their second bite at the apple. The newspaper reports that Wal-Mart could be the next big box store to move in beside the Kohl’s. Mayor Anthony Krasienko told the newspaper he doesn’t think the developer has a signed tenant yet, and the city’s building official said no permits have been sought for the site. A city staff member in the Engineering Department told the Journal the land work being done at the site was just to put in a permanent road. But one member of the City Council said she heard it directly from Liberty Development that they were considering a Wal-Mart. “There is no deal,” a spokesman for the developer told the newspaper, and Wal-Mart told the Journal, they were unaware of any specific proposal, but added: “We’re always looking for opportunities for growth and serving our customers.” The land in question was slated to have a big box store, and the developer has been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to resolve some wetlands issues on the parcel. The lawyer for the project admitted that Wal-Mart has been interested in the site. “I know that Wal-Mart, as well as other retailers, have been looking in this area for quite some time, and I don’t think anything has changed there,” the Lighhouse Village lawyer noted. A city official this week made it clear that local officials are ready to say yes again. “We would entertain any company, big or small, coming into our community depending on how the deal is structured. As long as we create a win-win scenario for the business and the city of Lorain, I’m for it,” said Lorain Service Director Robert Gilchrist.
In 2005, Lorain voters overturned the City Council’s vote to redistrict 37 acres along Cooper Foster Park Road for a 150,000 s.f. Wal-Mart store. The City Council approved the proposal in April of 2005. When the voters rejected the rezoning, Wal-Mart said at the time, “We thought with the approval of the rezone, we’d be able to serve the people of Lorain better. We’re looking forward to serving them in our existing and future stores.” This week, nearly 3 years since Wal-Mart was turned away, the owner of this land must be turning over in her grave. She left the property to the local YWCA, who sold it to a Church, and the Church cashed out big time. Readers are urged to send an email to Lorain Mayor Tony Krasienko at the Mayor’s Action Center: http://www.cityoflorain.org/mayor/action_center.shtml with this messsage: “Dear Mayor Krasienko, the Lighthouse Village is turning into Lighthouse Sprawl! You already have several big box stores there, and now rumors of a Wal-Mart. Voters made it clear in 2005 that they did not favor big box land development — yet Wal-Mart may be back again. There are already six Wal-Mart stores within 20 miles of Lorain, including the Elyria store on Midway Boulevard just five miles away. Your constituents have already been subjected to a Home Depot and a Kohl’s at the “Village.” Building a Wal-Mart will create neither new jobs nor taxes, because most of Wal-Mart’s sales will come from existing merchants, especially your area grocery stores. This land, which traces back to a gift to the YMCA, was never meant for big boxes. It’s time to take back control from the big box developers, and put a size cap on new retail stores to prevent Lighthouse Village from becoming Wal-Mart Village. Take action now — before Wal-Mart files their application.”