Plaintiffs Earn Victory in Walmart Rezoning Debate

Jul 24, 2013

A citizens group opposed to a new Walmart in Springfield is vowing to continue its fight after a judge has ruled that a referendum petition to overturn the city’s zoning decision allowing for the market cannot be used. KSMU’s Scott Harvey has details.

Mike Textor is with the Law Offices of Polsinelli, who represent Life360 Church. He says Tuesday’s ruling allows his client to sell their property at Grand and Campbell to Walmart.

The decision to build the grocery store at the location was to be voted on in August after a petition was submitted blocking City Council’s decision to rezone the area. But Life360 Church then sued the city seeking to block the election.

On Tuesday, visiting Vernon County Judge Gerald McBeth ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, saying the referendum power is “in direct conflict with the procedures set forth in Chapter 89 RSMo,” which stands for Revised Statutes of Missouri.  

Marla Marantz, an opponent of the Walmart Neighborhood Market, is with Citizens Advocating for Responsible Development.

“Well of course we’re disappointed. But we remain committed to defending the rights of the citizens of Springfield, who redress their government on zoning issues with the referendum vote,” Marantz said.

Mayor Bob Stephens told the Springfield News-Leader that the city had long suspected that their charter language regarding the referendum petition would be determined in conflict with state law, and said that changes to the charter could be proposed. Judge McBeth did, however, rule in the city’s favor on claims that the referendum process itself was defective, noting that the city clerk gave the correct number needed for signatures.

Speaking to KSMU, City Attorney Dan Wichmer noted that both decisions were satisfactory, and that the city will not appeal.

Tuesday’s decision lifts the suspension of the ordinance to rezone the property at Grand and Campbell, which was approved in February, and allows for the general retail zoning.

“As the judgment stands now, not only my clients, but all of our voters of the city of Springfield have effectively been deprived of access to the ballot box on land use issues. We see this as an important erosion of our access to have a say,” Umbarger says.

Attorney Jason Umbarger represents Marla Marantz and other local citizens, all of whom were denied a request earlier this month to join the lawsuit. Life360 Attorney Mike Textor believes that was the correct decision.

“Just because they live inside the city doesn’t mean that they have an interest in the outcome of this lawsuit, so the court’s decision to deny the motions to intervene was absolutely consistent with the well-reasoned law,” Textor said.

As for Umbarger, he tells KSMU their fight continues, as there is a plan to move forward on the issue, but would not provide specifics.