Residents Vow to Continue Fighting Midtown Walmart After Losing Court Appeal

A team of residents that has fought Walmart in court for more than a year hasn’t dissuaded the billion-dollar retail chain from opening a superstore in midtown Miami. And last week, the company won its latest appeal, making a Walmart on North Miami Avenue look even more certain.

But the residents behind the legal push say they don't plan to stop fighting despite the latest loss. “We have a few weeks left to appeal the decision and likely will file with more legal help this time,” says Grant Stern, one of the petitioners on the lawsuit.

In October 2011, New Times first reported that Walmart planned to open a 156,000-square-foot, three-story superstore in midtown. Many residents and business owners were up in arms and have spent years trying to halt the development, which they argue would change the character of the neighborhood and hurt local stores.

The city commission backed the retail chain, though, and in August 2013, City of Miami planning director Francisco Garcia officially approved Walmart’s architectural designs.

Walmart's final speed bump to begin construction was a building permit, which residents have been successful in delaying in court by arguing that the current zoning code bans parts of the development. At the heart of the fight: loading bays for the store. Walmart's plans called for five, but city codes allow only three. 

When residents sued over that issue, the city admitted it had messed up. But instead of opening the plans to a public vote, as Stern's group wanted, the city simply allowed Walmart to alter its plans by reclassifying two of the loading bays.

“Walmart didn't move so much as a light switch to their plan, which was thrown out in court last year, yet the city commission approved it anyway,” says Stern, one of midtown Walmart’s most vociferous opponents. “Unfortunately, this battle went to the combined eight Walmart and City of Miami attorneys against our sole practitioner.”

Walmart has disputed those claims, though. And last week, a panel of Miami-Dade judges sided with the retail giant, ruling against an appeal by Stern's group. A spokesperson for the chain says the company will move forward with construction. “This decision brings Walmart one step closer to providing hundreds of new jobs and affordable grocery options to residents,” spokesperson Willian Wertz told the Miami Herald.

Stern and his allies had hoped the court would bar Walmart from applying for a building permit application for 12 months. Instead, the worst-case scenario happened: Judges found in favor in of Walmart. But Stern vows the fight is not over.

Stern calls Walmart’s latest appeal a “cry uncle” brief because in one of the articles, Walmart’s attorneys stressed the financial burden the legal back-and-forth is causing the company. Walmart wanted to know once and for all whether it could secure a building permit. 

“Walmart wrote a motion to strike my brief, to which I say: It’s OK for Walmart to strike but not OK for their employees,” Stern says.
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Jess Swanson is the news editor at New Times. She graduated from the University of Miami and has a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Contact: Jess Swanson