Midtown Walmart Wins Zoning Appeal, Headed to City Council for Final Vote

Walmart's plans to build a superstore in the heart of midtown Miami are now just one vote away from becoming a reality. The retail giant won an appeal with the city's zoning board last night, overcoming hours of pleas from residents who say the store would turn one of Miami's up-and-coming urban neighborhoods into a corporate hellscape.

Opponents vowed to continue fighting plans for the 203,000-square-foot store before the city commission.

See also: City Approves Walmart's Plans for Midtown, Opponents Pledge to Appeal

At city hall last night, critics marshaled to outline their worries that the Walmart would snarl traffic, change the character of midtown Miami, and hurt local retailers. For five hours, they traded barbs with Walmart's conga line of attorneys.

In the end, the Planning and Zoning Appeals Board voted 6-4 to grant Walmart the approval to go ahead with the superstore. That reverses a 9-0 vote by the same board -- which had been reversed by planning director Francisco Garcia, who OK'd the retailer's plans.

Grant Stern, a mortgage broker who has led opponents of Walmart's midtown push, vowed to fight the plan at the city commission.

"This is not the end of the fight," he told the Miami Herald after last night's hearing. "We'll take what we have, refine it, and send it on its way."

In addition to their concerns about Walmart's effect on the neighborhood, Stern and his allies argue the store's plans require public hearings for variances because of the number of loading bays, the distance of upper stories from street level, and plans to reduce lanes on a nearby road.

Lorenzo Lopez, a Walmart spokesman, says Walmart is confident it will win final backing from the city.

"We are pleased with the Planning and Zoning Board's recommendation and look forward to serving our customers in Wynwood, Overtown, Allapattah, and Downtown Miami by 2015," Lopez says in a statement sent to Riptide. "Our new store at Midtown will provide hundreds of new jobs and affordable grocery options to area residents who are now traveling up to 22 miles roundtrip to reach our nearest store."

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink