A new obstacle to Wal-Mart's plans for a west Lawrence store should be finalized at tonight's Lawrence City Commission meeting.
Commissioners are expected to give final approval to an ordinance rezoning the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive to essentially prohibit a "big-box" store there. 6Wak Land Investments, the property owner, opposes the ordinance.
"All they know is they want to stop our approved plan, which includes a Wal-Mart," Bill Newsome, a 6Wak partner, said Monday.
"I think it's clear that there's a disagreement," Mayor Mike Rundle said.
Since May 2003, 6Wak and Wal-Mart have filed six lawsuits against the city for refusing to issue building permits for the site, and for levying a special assessment against 6Wak to pay for the construction of nearby streets.
In its defense against the lawsuits, the city has argued that Wal-Mart is a department store prohibited under terms of the site's zoning. Wal-Mart and 6Wak say their establishment is a variety store, which city codes allow at the site.
The lawsuits have cost taxpayers more than $138,000 in legal bills. If final approval is given to the ordinance tonight, Newsome said a seventh lawsuit would be filed.
Approval of the rezoning ordinance was scheduled in March but delayed when Commissioner David Schauner raised questions -- department store was listed as a permitted use for the site under the rezoning.
In a memorandum, planning officials said the department store use was now being allowed because the small size of stores that would be allowed -- a maximum of 80,000 square feet, compared with 132,000 square feet allowed under the corner's current zoning -- rendered moot concerns about a big-box store at the site.
Newsome said the confusion that prompted the delay was part of a pattern of self-contradicting City Commission behavior aimed at blocking Wal-Mart.
"I guess my message is the City Commission has confused itself with its own action," Newsome said. "The left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."
Rundle pointed to previous City Commission discussions that a bigger-sized store -- regardless of the brand name -- would harm the surrounding neighborhood.
"The city's been very clear this is not about Wal-Mart," Rundle said. "It's all clear that Bill Newsome says what serves his purposes."
The commission meets at 6:35 p.m. tonight in City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.