Walmart Partner Fails to Purge Walmart Opponent From Midtown Government
Courtesy of Walmart

Walmart Partner Fails to Purge Walmart Opponent From Midtown Government

For years, independent journalist and activist Grant Stern has fought Walmart's plans to build a sprawling store on North Miami Avenue in midtown Miami, near nightlife hot spots such as Gigi and Bardot. Stern has filed lawsuits against the project, helping to stall the plan since June.

And last month, Stern won a seat on the Midtown Miami Community Development District Board of Supervisors, which controls parts of the land on which Walmart would like to build.

That move, it seems, was a step too far for Walmart's local backers. The night before Stern was set to be sworn in, Walmart's Miami business partner and landlord — Midtown Miami Mall owner DDR Miami Avenue LLC — filed a Hail Mary lawsuit to stop Stern from taking office.

Today a Miami-Dade County judge threw out DDR's suit. DDR had claimed that Stern had no standing to run for the midtown board, but county Judge Lisa S. Walsh questioned whether DDR knew what it was talking about, and — in a scathing opinion — wrote that DDR had six months to speak up about Stern's appointment to the board, did nothing, and then tried to file a lawsuit after 5 p.m. the day before Stern was to be sworn in, thus creating an "avoidable emergency."

"It is baffling why, if the Plaintiff is relying upon this six-month-old information, it waited until after the election and until the night before the candidates were to take office, to seek extraordinary relief from this court," Walsh wrote.

Stern, meanwhile, contends the DDR was acting as Walmart's proxy to purge the company's biggest local opponent from the midtown government. Stern tells New Times the ordeal reminded him of a saying one of his old history teachers hung from a sign in his classroom.

"It said, 'Your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency on my behalf,'" Stern says. "The judge must have seen that sign, because she almost quoted it in the ruling."

Attempting to illegally invalidate an election reeks of desperation — but it appears to have been one of DDR and Walmart's last available moves in their fight over the midtown land. A Walmart spokesperson did not immediately respond to New Times' requests for comment.

Stern has fought Walmart's plans to build on a property at NW 29th Street and North Miami Avenue since the world's highest-revenue company announced plans to build there in 2011. Walmart broke ground on the project in January despite Stern's objections. Stern argues that a portion of the project will cross onto land owned by the Midtown Miami Community Development District and that neither Walmart nor the city obtained the correct paperwork to build on the Development District's land.

Stern also says that Walmart wanted to build an illegal driveway that would have violated portions of the zoning code, but that the city allowed the project to move forward anyway.

During Stern's legal battle, the activist also sued the city for withholding public records he'd asked for. This past April, Stern won: county Judge Michael Hanzman ruled that the City of Miami had broken the state's Sunshine Law.

After that victory, Stern revealed that Walmart had illegal permits to build, and in June, the city formally revoked Walmart's building permit. Stern claimed victory, and the project has sat dormant since June.

In June, Stern announced he planned to run for the Midtown Development District Board because it owns part of the land on which Walmart wants to build.

"I want to defend the district's boundaries," he tells New Times, "and I would like to help direct district operations to enhance the artistic look and feel of midtown. Midtown has lots of public spaces that are underactivated."

Stern won his board seat this past Election Day and was set to be sworn in at a meeting today. But after 5 p.m. December 9, DDR filed an emergency petition to try to stop Stern from taking office, alleging that because he didn't live in midtown, he couldn't sit on the area's development board. But Walsh, the county judge, flatly threw out that argument.

"There is no sworn affidavit, nor any verified statement of fact, which supports this allegation that during the months between qualifying and the election, the Defendants failed to secure residency within the district," the judge wrote. She added that evidence showed Stern planned to address issues with his listed address at today's swearing-in ceremony.

Walsh added that the court was "concerned about the public policy of entertaining unnecessarily late-filed emergency petitions which disrupt public legislative process, as is this case."

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