“I really don’t understand what the problem is,” developer Richard Solove told The Columbus Dispatch, on learning that his proposed 212,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter had been unanimously rejected by the Westerville, OH City Council on Tuesday. “Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the world. We would like to build the center and work with you.” Does this developer really believe that the logo on the blueprint should determine the outcome? Are cityofficials supposed to change their rules for Wal-Mart, because they are the biggest in the world? City officials told reporters that Solove’s proposal met standards for a general commercial project — but not for the specific planned community zone in that area. It wasn’t like the Council’s decision was a surprise. In fact, this is the fourth vote local officials have taken against the plan — the first three being at the Planning Commission level. The Commission told the developer the project was too large for the 27 acre site, and did not meet planned commercial district standards, which we put into effect more than a decade ago — long besfore Wal-Mart was a gleam in the eye of developers. In addition to the huge Wal-Mart, the developers want to build a strip of smaller stores and 4 outlying businesses. The land was zoned “planned commercial” in 1987 to stimulate “imaginative site and architectural design” in keeping with the “unique characteristics of the site and surrounding uses.” It’s hard to call a big box imaaginative or unique. The developer says he’s spent $150,000 to redo his site plans to meet city staff requests, but the city has no responsiblity to reward developers who’s plans to not meet district guidelines. The Council, however, voted 7-0 to slam-dunk Wal-Mart. This is the second Ohio community (see Beavercreek story below) to deep six a Wal-Mart in the past month.
After the vote, the developer told a reporter: “I’m sure we’ll be filing court action. We’re going out now to talk about the details. We’ve been at this for two years, and we’re going ahead.” From the sound of it, the city of Westerville has “been at this” for 13 years, trying to develop a planned district that would not turn out simply as a wall of concrete surrounded by a sea of asphalt. It’s too bad that developers appear to see litigation as a way to get what regulation does not produce, but the City Council of Westerville is mandated to uphold the zoning bylaws of the community. Developers have no such responsibility, but elected officials do.