Although Walmart’s proposed Oakland Park Supercenter had a majority of votes in favor, the city’s charter kept officials from approving it.
On Aug. 5, the Oakland Park Commission approved Walmart’s site plan in a 2-1 vote but failed to approve the plat. Walmart wants to build a 121,345 square foot building to replace the existing 117,692 square foot one, 670 E. Oakland Park Blvd., that used to be operated by Kmart.
Mayor Jed Shank and Commissioner Shari McCartney voted in favor of the site plan and plat but Commissioner Sara Guevrekian voted against both measures. Because the city charter requires at least three votes to pass a resolution, as was attempted with the plat, the commission failed to approve the project. The county could still approve the plat but City Attorney D.J. Doody said they would most likely adhere to the city’s decision.
Vice Mayor Tim Lonergan and Commissioner John Adornato abstained from the vote because their companies do business with Walmart.
Guevrekian said she was against the project because she predicted it would bring increased traffic and crime, more so than the Kmart. “A larger store offering more wares 24 hours a day will certainly draw more patrons.”
As part of its efforts to gain site plan approval, Walmart agreed to conditions including limiting truck delivery times, keeping its delivery trucks from using Northeast 6 Avenue and providing Oakland Park with a $100,000 letter of credit for landscaping and $300,000 for the city’s tree fund – an increase over the original offer of $150,000. Walmart also agreed to provide a greeter and hire BSO officers to work private details if incidents of crime reach a certain level.
McCartney said it was better for the city to approve the project and get the benefit of the agreed upon conditions than to get nothing.
“The difficult part we’ve already done. This is ministerial. This is a rubber stamp. We passed the part that allows us to have control,” she said. “I’d rather have some ability to control the obvious problems that will arise than none.”
If Walmart chooses, it can still move into the existing Kmart building. No approval from the city is needed to use the existing building because it’s already zoned for commercial use.
McCartney was also worried that denying the plat could result in a lawsuit against the city. She tried to find a way around the charter’s three-vote requirement but was unsuccessful. “This is not something we can deny. I’m trying to find a way to save us from ourselves.”
Shank said he also wanted to see the project approved but felt compelled to follow the rules. “I can’t change the rules just to get my way. I want the thing to pass but I want to do it the right way.”
Doody said any lawsuit brought by Walmart would be tough for the city to prevail. “The city would have a challenge in defending an action brought in approving the plat. It would be a challenge to defend relative to a ministerial act.”
In an interview with The Gazette, Steven Wherry, the Fort Lauderdale attorney representing Walmart, said it’s very unlikely his client will go forward with the conditions if it is not allowed to construct a new building. “I think that’s probably unlikely.”
Wherry said Walmart has not yet decided if it will file a lawsuit but will try to go before the commission again. “Our preference is to avoid a lawsuit. We will try to find a more amicable route. We want to do our best to not create circumstances that are adversarial.”