f you think this issue was just about putting a Wal-Mart in a subdivision, you’d be mistaken. In part, Wal-Mart’s ‘800 pound gorilla’ arrogance was a factor, but in the end, they just followed the path laid out for them — something that doesn’t happen often to this corporate Goliath.
On Tuesday, September 4, 2007, North Carolina Court of Appeals voted unanimously in favor of the Marvin area homeowners group that has been fighting the permitting of a Wal-Mart store in their neighborhood since November 2001.
Charlotte Observer: Court rejects Wal-Mart case
The Appeals Court upheld a Superior Court’s decision that the Union County Board of Adjustments, had improperly granted a special use permit to build a Wal-Mart at the corner Rea and Tom Short Roads, in Marvin.
Village Scribe Online: V-I-N-D-I-C-A-T-I-O-N: Judge Rules against Wal-Mart
If you look back at the six years of this battle, you’ll see it started with the same kind of backroom meeting shenanigans happening now with the sewer and water crisis, but then it was a different set of ‘Developer-Omissioners’ who orchestrated letters granting Wal-Mart grandfathering to zoning changes and project vesting they didn’t deserve. The mindset of generating sales-tax revenue is/was especially appealing, even last week, Commissioner Pressley lamented the loss of tax dollars when he commented about the Appeals Court decision during Commissioner comments.
Without the letters, Wal-Mart would have never attempted to build a super-center in zoning meant for 120,000 sq ft. convenience shopping, in a Planned Unit Development (PUD) with a 50,000 sq. ft. building cap. It’s fair to assume, that Wal-Mart felt they would succeed, given their deep pockets and the ‘Ferengis‘ running the show in the county.
Those letters meant a $3 million profit for the Union County wheeler dealers and cost homeowners and Union County taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars and six years to fight to set things right. A fight that Wal-Mart and their Commissioner backers didn’t expect — by people determined to be treated fairly and who just weren’t going to go away.
The following passage, comes from a guest commentary written by then Commissioner Clayton Loflin in the Charlotte Observer ((published Sunday, March 31, 2002)), titled “Let’s give Wal-Mart a chance to become a good neighbor”, perfectly illustrates the prevalent attitudes of those in power.
“I think it’s time for our new neighbors in Somerset to take a deep breath and consider what your fight against the proposed Wal-Mart says to the other 134,000 Union Countians: “Thank you friends for building such wonderful schools and for running a conservative government they keep the taxes on our homes low, but we prefer to work and shop in Charlotte. Just raise property taxes if you need more money. By the way, when will the new schools open so that we don’t have to drive so far and please, do something about all those mobile classrooms.”
The second phase of this debacle for Union County, was the complete and utter abrogation of the zoning laws by Union County’s Board of Adjustment.
The Board of Adjustments, as then board member Everett Median ((Mr. Medlin is currently a member of the new Union County Planning Board)), said the decision sets a precedent for the county and the region. “We as a board in Union County are going to make a legal precedent by allowing a Wal-Mart to be built within 60 feet, 55 feet, of a major housing development,” he said.
Not only did the Board of Adjustments improperly create new zoning, they ignored existing county zoning governing the shopping centers, ignored the ordinance that dictates rules of procedure and findings of fact. These are all reasons why the Special Use permit was overturned in Superior Court.
In the aftermath, Union County Commissioners ((Commissioners Kevin Presley, Hughie Sexton, Richard Stone and Roger Lane)) voted to join the homeowners to oppose the decision by the Board of Adjustment, rightfully recognizing the bastardization of county zoning would set a precedent far reaching into the future.
What will Wal-Mart do now? They can proceed further by petitioning the Supreme Court to hear the current case or they can start from scratch. Begin the process over by applying to the Union County Board of Adjustments, for special use permit once again.
If Wal-Mart decides to pursue a new special use permit, they’ll find the Board of Adjustments members are all new and the two lawyers for the county have flipped positions.
The attorney for the Board of Adjustments during the course of the Wal-Mart Special Use permit was John Burns, a lawyer from Monroe. If you read the findings for Superior Court Judge Collier, the lack of adherence to ordinance and the final issuance of the permit itself, was technically improper and did not follow the ‘quasi-judicial’ procedure — all indicators of legal advice not given or followed.
The attorney who represented Union County in opposing the Special Use permit, William Sturges is now the attorney for the County Board of Adjustments. Mr. Sturges has an excellent reputation and previously served in the same capacity in Charlotte.
The Cost of Victory
Before you get excited and start thinking that the next round will be better, consider that Mr. Burns was appointed as Union County attorney, in a 3-2 vote last February, replacing Don Perry. Mr. Burns is/was the personal attorney for both Commissioners Parker Mills and Allan Baucom, a glaring conflict of interest and cronyism that continues to influence current events. Another amazing ‘Business Decision’!
To summarize, the time and expense that the residents of Somerset and Hunter Oaks were forced to bear, to save their neighborhoods, was not the responsibility of the then 134,000 Union ‘Countians’, but a slick ‘inside job’ by one or more commissioners, staffers fearing for their retirement and hired incompetence on a grand scale.