On June 24, 2003, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had been given a second chance in Gainsville, Florida. After being rejected on May 27, 2003 by the City Commission on a 4-3 vote for a location on 53rd Avenue, the retailer managed to get one of the Commissioners who voted against the plan to change his mind and ask for a reconsideration of the vote. Wal-Mart’s plans for a 207,000 s.f. superstore required a land use change to the city’s comprehensive plan. One commissioner told the Gainsville Sun that he had received more calls from residents on Wal-Mart than on any other issue he had faced in his three years on the board. Usually, when a comp plan change is rejected for a location, the applicant has to wait two years to come back before the commission. But Wal-Mart got a special deal. The commissioners voted to allow the company to resubmit their plan for 53rd avenue again. The retailer was urged by at least one commissioner to consider the nearby empty Kmart building, and become an anchor tenant in the existing Gainsville Mall. This would be ironic, since Wal-Mart shoppers were the ones that killed the Kmart in the first place. The attorney for Wal-Mart predicted the company would resubmit its plans within two weeks, but raised little hope for reuse of the Kmart building. The attorney said Wal-Mart preferred to own its properties, not lease them. The manager of the Gainsville Mall suggested that Wal-Mart build a two story building, by taking over the Kmart and the retail store next to it. She said she offered the company an “extremely competitive” rent for the location. Citizen activists who have been battling the superstore, remained adamant that the 53rd avenue site was wrong for the project, which was too large for the location, would generate too much traffic, and would cause stormwater runoff issues. Seven years later, Wal-Mart still has not gained much in Gainesville — but they have moved their attention to another location. The Sun reports that the Gainesville Development Review Board recently voted 3-2 to approve the preliminary development plans for a 170,000-square-foot store and three outparcels on Northwest 34th Street — now a different location. The proposal required two waivers to land-use rules: one for not being close enough to 34th Street and the other for not having enough window surface area. If this store continues on with its final development plan, it will shut down the existing Wal-Mart on Northwest 13th street, leaving the city with an empty dead box. This is actually Wal-Mart’s third attempt to build a superstore in Gainesville. The City Commission voted down two other locations due to environmental concerns. The Development Review Board denied a plan at the same location last summer because it was not consistent with land development regulations, a decision upheld in court after Wal-Mart sued the city. The retailer’s latest plan moves the store closer to Northwest 34th Street and moves the parking lot away from the streets, making the project more pedestrian-friendly. “We’ve taken great pains to make this as pedestrian-friendly as possible,” said Wal-Mart’s attorney. Several board members said the plan was a big improvement — but was not perfect. At the hearing, Wal-Mart presented a petition with 400 signatures in favor of the plan. One area realtor who manages property near the proposed store, testified at the hearing that other stores would leave the area if Wal-Mart comes — creating a zero sum game. A resident named John Hudson, who is a nearby property owner, opposed the project — but came to the hearing with an alternative architectural plan. He hired a land use planner who told officials that Wal-Mart’s plan does not meet the requirements of mixed-use zoning, since it is only one large commercial use, with no residential or office uses. One Board member left the meeting before the vote, saying a Wal-Mart supporter had made a threatening phone call. The Development Review Board vote is only the start of Wal-Mart’s third journey through the Gainesville land use process.
Several days after the vote, The Sun reported that John Hudson had indicated that he will appeal to the City Commission the decision by the DRB, which paves the way for a Wal-Mart. Hudson will challenge the Development Review Board’s decision approving Wal-Mart’s preliminary development review. Hudson’s property is less than 400 feet from the Wal-Mart property, which means he has ” standing” to appeal the decision. Hudson also was an intervener in support of the city when Wal-Mart sued the city over the previous denial of its plans. Hudson charges that the Wal-Mart proposal is inconsistent with the intent of the central corridors plan in which this land is situated. Hudson also does work for the Plaza Verde, which is near the “old” Wal-Mart on Northwest 13th Street. Wal-Mart has indicated that it will close down its existing store if this new supercenter is approved. “What I really want Wal-Mart to do is to add on to the store they have now in the 13th Street activity area instead of going out and cutting down a forest,” Hudson told The Sun. Readers are urged to contact the Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Hanrahan, Since 2004, you have pursued a goal of making Gainesville economically sustainable, and environmentally responsible. In your 2010 State of the City speech, you said, “We need to attract more businesses that will bring high wage jobs based on our innovation economy to our area.” The proposed Wal-Mart superstore at Northwest 34th st is a loser by all those measures: 1) it does not bring high wage jobs 2) it is not an innovative business, and 3) it is environmentally a greenhouse gas producer. As an added bonus, this project will leave the city with an empty big box to fill on 13th street — a box that will be hard to fill in these economic times, and could end up being more blight — which Gainesville does not need. I urge you to reject this plan when it comes to the City Commission. There is no gain for Gainesville by approving this redundant store. Keep your sites focused on higher wage jobs from innovative companies.”