On October 31, 2006, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart was trying to “bribe” the city of Wichita, Kansas with a small land giveaway, in return for a 135,000 s.f. superstore. If city officials approved the retailer’s plans to build a superstore, Wal-Mart said it would buy extra land and give it to the city to use as a loading area for elementary school buses. Wal-Mart presented the quid pro quo at a meeting of the Wichita School Board. The land in question would be added to the Jefferson Elementary School campus. But, the additional land is contingent first on the city’s approval of Wal-Mart’s plans. “Wal-Mart would purchase property and deed it to the district,” a school official said. The city-county Planning Department had recommended the plan. Today, the Wichita Eagle announced that the land deal is off — for now. The Wichita City Council voted 5-2 to reject Wal-Mart’s request to build a superstore on January 9th. “There are many of us not really opposed to Wal-Mart,” said one resident, who lives across the street from the proposed store. “But we didn’t really want them in our front yards.” It appears that angry abutters played a big role in the rejection of the plan, so Wal-Mart is having their homes appraised, and the developer may just buy-out the homeowners. Mayor Carlos Mayans reportedly wanted the project continued, not denied, to give Wal-Mart time to buy-out the neighbors, and to firm up the land use deal for the elementary school. “We didn’t even give them every opportunity to work it out,” said one council member. “I wanted to give them that chance.”
Wal-Mart can return with another plan in six months, but will have to demonstrate that its proposal is substantially different. If the City Council finds the plan is too similar, it can force Wal-Mart to wait another year before submitting again. However, the Wichita Eagles projects that Wal-Mart will in fact return with a new plan, and will get a more favorable vote from the city. In December of 2005, the city council also turned Wal-Mart down at another site because of traffic and noise issues, but Wal-Mart simply bought up more land, expanded its site from 27 acres to 80, and the Council then approved them. Despite the malleable city council, some local residents say the city just does not need another Wal-Mart. The newspaper quoted a nearby business owner who noted that there is already a Wal-Mart three miles away from the site. “We know that this is not the end of this,” another resident told The Eagle. “We know Wal-Mart is going to come back with maybe not the same proposal but something very similar.” Now is the time for residents to step up their emails and letters to the editor, to keep this project in the trash bin, and show that Wal-Mart can’t just buy people out. Wichita should not be for sale to the highest commercial bidder.