There goes the neighborhood.
The City of Miami has approved Walmart's controversial plans for a 156,000-square-foot store in Midtown. After nearly two years of heated debate, planning director Francisco Garcia officially approved the mega chain store's architectural plans yesterday. Walmart must still obtain a building permit before starting construction, but opponents of the big box store aren't waiting. They are waging war.
"The city is merely declaring Christmas in August," says Grant Stern in reaction to the granting of the permit. "But we are prepared to immediately appeal. Walmart will flatten the neighborhood."
New Times first reported that Walmart was planning on plopping a big box store in the up-and-coming district back in October of 2011.
The reaction was fierce. While Walmart's lobbyists argue that the store will bring both construction jobs and permanent retail positions, critics -- Stern included -- say the chain will kill one of the few cool and vibrant parts of Miami.
"If they implement the plan as they have it, you can pretty much forget the luxury condo concept in that area," Stern says. "It's just not going to work anymore. If you live in an area where you can't walk down the street [because of a big box store], why pay a premium?"
"We could see flight from the neighborhood," Stern adds, "and that would be bad."
Walmart, meanwhile, is touting the permit approval as moving the company "one step closer to serving our Miami customers."
"Our Midtown Miami store will provide residents with new job opportunities and shopping options while complimenting the existing retail corridor," says Steven Restivo, Senior Director of Community Affairs at Walmart. "We're excited to move forward."
The decision to issue Walmart the permit caught Stern by surprise. He met with Garcia on July 3rd to look over the latest Walmart plans: there is no way those plans should have been approved, and no way they will stand up to appeal. Stern argues that Walmart's plans for a massive parking lot and widening 31st Street both violate the Miami 21 zoning code.
At first, it seemed like the City of Miami agreed. Miami's Urban Development Review Board voted unanimously in February to deny Walmart's plans.
Garcia, however, has the last word -- at least, until Stern appeals.
Any appeal will be heard by the city's planning board and, finally, the City Commission.
Stern says that the city is bending the rules for Walmart. More importantly, locals don't want the big box store.
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"It's a travesty," he says. "Unless there is somehow some mystery set of plans that they refused to show us on July 3... they are outrageously over the top. Walmart's plan is created to accommodate a suburb, not a high-density area."
"The bottom line is: if they put a Walmart in, the artists -- the creative class type, those that have brought the neighborhood up and vote with their feet -- will leave," Stern warns. "It will not matter what minuscule economic benefit will bring to the area. It will be dead."