For four years, ever since New Times first reported that corporate behemoth Walmart planned to build a store in Miami's burgeoning Midtown district, a group of residents has vehemently opposed the big box store, filing numerous legal challenges.
The retailer has won just about every one of those cases, but the concerned citizens haven't given up yet. Their fight continues today at a public meeting over the development.
"We were railroaded last year," says Grant Stern, an organizer of the group NoWalmartinMidtown. "It's called a kangaroo court."
After years of protests and legal battles, Walmart won a big court victory in late August, when Stern's group lost an appeal arguing that the store's construction would violate the district's zoning code because of the number of loading bays in the plan. The whole legal process, Stern contends, was heavily biased in favor of the corporation, without adequate time for public input; after the decision,Walmart said it was moving forward with construction.
"This decision brings Walmart one step closer to providing hundreds of new jobs and affordable grocery options to residents," a Walmart spokesperson told the Miami Herald in late August.
But Grant and his allies vowed to keep fighting. And they have: The company's plans, he says, still violate the original bond obligations of the special Midtown business district because the store "would rip out all of the parallel parking and all of the trees on the south side of NE 31st Street", opening up the store to lawsuits from residents or bond holders.
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"They can’t destroy the streetscape," Stern argues. "They have to leave the streets the way they're built."
Now, with a new legal team, Stern has once again filed papers to halt the construction of the store. At this point, he says, he realizes odds of actually stopping the development are low, but he's confident his group can still have a positive impact on — or possibly delay — the eventual development, ensuring that the store that is built doesn't disrupt the neighborhood as heavily.
"Our existential goal is to stop Walmart," he says. "But legally and realistically speaking, what we can achieve is to force them to follow the letter of the law."
Stern expects 40 to 60 local business owners at today's meeting, which takes place at 1 p.m. at Suite 132, on the second floor of the Midtown Parking Garage.