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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Walmart ruling may be fair, but it leaves much confusion

Friday, July 26, 2013 | 2:29 p.m. CDT; updated 4:43 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 26, 2013

It appears Springfield will get another Walmart Neighborhood Market, at the corner of Grand Street and Campbell Avenue.

The ruling Tuesday by Missouri Circuit Judge Gerald McBeth means there will be no public vote on the rezoning that would allow the grocery store on that property.

A group opposed to the Walmart location sought the vote by citizen referendum, gaining enough signatures to send City Council’s decision to rezone the property from residential to general retail to the voters.

The owner of the property, Life360 Church, and adjacent property owners Robert and Jennifer Buchanan then sued to stop the city from sending the issue to a vote.

McBeth, who was appointed to hear the case after all of the Greene County judges recused, entered his judgment in favor of the plaintiffs, ruling that the city’s referendum process for use in zoning matters conflicts with state law.

We are relieved by the judge’s decision. We do not think zoning decisions should be made by referendum. Business interests and developers are going to be especially pleased with the decision because it means they should not worry about whether they can negotiate in good faith with the city on planned developments.

That said, there have been some things about this case that are confusing and disturbing.

McBeth last week openly admitted his own confusion. “Hopefully, someone takes this to the court of appeals, because I have no idea what you are talking about,” he said after a hearing Friday.

But another ruling by McBeth all but ensures there would be no appeal. The judge refused to allow five citizens who oppose the rezoning to join the suit — despite allowing their lawyer to speak at the hearing. Those citizens asked to present an opposing view since the main parties — the property owners and the city — agreed that the vote should not be allowed to take place.

To appeal the final ruling, those citizens would have to undertake a difficult and costly appeal of McBeth’s decision barring them from participating. If McBeth really wanted an appeals court to take up the case, as he stated publicly, he should have allowed the opponents to weigh in.

But, to quote from “Macbeth” — the play by William Shakespeare — “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.…”

In this case, the judge’s final decision was fair. State law does conflict with the city charter when it allows for referendum petitions in zoning matters.

However, we suspect opponents of the Walmart store, especially in light of the judge’s own comments, will see the decision as foul.

Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.


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