CRYSTAL RIVER FIGHTING WALMART-Andrew Stelzer

04/30/04

The citizens of Crystal River, about 90 miles North of Tampa, have been fighting to keep a Wal-Mart store out of their community for almost a year. Now one family may have found a way to stop the mega-chain—by moving into a strip mall and declaring them selves the only residents of a new annexed parcel of land. Problems began last year when Citrus county refused to give the Realticorp company a permit to build a Wal-Mart, along with several other stores and buildings, on land that was unincorporated. The county denied the plan because the proposed land was environmentally sensitive. Realticorp then went to the City of Crystal River and asked them to annex the property—the city doesn’t have the same environmental rules as the county. But to annex the land Wal-Mart would be built on, they had to piece together plots of land along US 19—all commercial land,--while twisting and turning the borders around current homes, so that residents couldn’t complain. Concerned residents the plan then formed a group called CORA, or Citizens opposed to Realticorp annexation. Doctor Thomas Dawson is chairman of CORA

ACT “it was obvious what they were up to…taxes, getting around coastal protection.� ACT “The plan calls for not just Wal-Mart but stores, on forest land.�

Although many of the people in CORA were against Wal-Mart, protecting the environment was their main concern. ACT ACT “Cora is not just anti-Wal-Mart…lots of people who are on our team..ere not antiwalmart, were pro environment.� “The idea of Wal-Mart coming in and doing all this damage is not our main issue..We want to protect our environment.�

Ignoring citizen’s objections and threats of lawsuits, the city continued with its plans to annex the land, but then in February that plan hit another snag. Renee and Rodger Mcpheeters, who own a small strip mall along the road, moved into one of the stores in their shopping center. Because they were legal residents, the city would have to hold a referendum vote on the new Wal-Mart, and the Mcpheeters would be the only voters in the area…therefore they could vote it down 2 to zero. ACT “Everyone I talk to they say were rooting for you.� Renee Mcpheeters and her husband moved into the strip mall on February 19th, although they claim they were planning on doing so for several years. They own a beauty salon, a Chinese take out restaurant, and a title company. ACT “In order to get the annexation through they had to get 50 percent of the property owners.�

The city annexed 500 acres of land in several parcels. The shopping center the Mcpheersons live in is only a couple of acres, but its is important because without it, the city would have a hard time proving it’s a continuous parcel of land. Crystal River’s city attorney is claiming that the McPheeters didn’t get their certificate of occupancy before they registered to vote, but the county’s supervisor of elections officer said she didn’t think those charges have a chance in court. She points out that the Mcpheeters have always received their mail at the shopping center, and their driver’s licenses list the shopping center as their address. The supervisor of elections has declared she will not file charges. ACT “They go around anyone that can vote, they found out we are registered voters and they don’t like it…we are registered voters and they cant take our rights away…. now they have police officers watch us.�

Thom Dawson says CORA is glad to have the Mcpheeters throwing a monkey wrench into the city’s plans. ACT “were tickled to death that they moved in there..The timing was right, it will make it harder for them to justify …its an illegal annexation.�

Dawson is an optomologist; he owns a business in some of the 500 annexed acres. He says that he and other property owners are upset, because they would have to pay more property taxes if their land was annexed, and they wouldn’t get any benefit.

ACT “Where the city council is coming from I don’t know…only one ses te light, the rest see dollar signs…they are not in favor of walmart..But they say we might as well control it…for people like me, wed pay more in tax dollars but get nothing in return.�

ACT ‘thast one of these things where I don’t like doing something bad but Ill do it anyway…that not leadership…� (INSERT) Al Norman has been called the guru of the anti walmart movement. He travels the country helping citizens organize against Wal-Mart and other other big-box stores.

Norman has been watching the situation in Crystal River, along with the over 200 other communities that have stopped Wal-Mart’s from moving in. ACT “Most elected officials think its like being touched by Elvis..’

Norman says there are two methods of stopping Wal-Mart stores. The most important is not to shop there and support local businesses. And the second is methods like the Mcpheeters, making personal actions that affect the political process. Rene Mcpheeters agrees. ACT “What’s that saying you cant fight city hall but sometimes you have to.�

Citrus County has already given Wal-Mart permission to build Wal-Mart, as long as they follow guidelines meant to protect the environment, and design the store under county guidelines. In the meantime, there are lawsuits challenging the annexation of land, but the Mcpheeters strip mall residence may force the City of Crystal River to resign their land annexation map and try all over again.

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