City, Citizens Clash Over Proposed Walmart

Jul 12, 2013

People in Sioux Falls received mailers detailing community benefits of a proposed Walmart at 85th St. & Minnesota Ave.
Credit Kealey Bultena / SDPB

Development in the state’s largest city is sprawling, but people who live in a southeast Sioux Falls neighborhood don’t like the direction of expansion. A citizen group named Save Our Neighborhood is fighting approval of a new Walmart, and members accuse the city of Sioux Falls of not following state law.

The legal battle is brewing over the location of a new Walmart in Sioux Falls. A citizen group filed a lawsuit against the city. Dana Palmer says Save Our Neighborhood didn’t want to have to go that far but believes Sioux Falls broke the law.

"If land is unplatted territory, which this land at 85th and Minnesota is, that the city must get the approval of the county commission before annexing it," Palmer says.

She says that statute applies, so Sioux Falls needs Lincoln’s County’s go-ahead. But Sioux Falls City Attorney Dave Pfiefle has a different perspective. He doesn’t deny the state law exists, and he’s seen only a courtesy copy of the suit, but he says the city didn’t break any rules because the landowner wanted to be part of Sioux Falls.

"As part of that process, however, we do notify all other government agencies involved, including the school district, the township, Lincoln County auditor who by law then has to notify the Lincoln County Commission," Pfiefle says. "All of those agencies were notified. None of them had any objections to this annexation."

Attorneys from all sides need time to process the paperwork.

Dana Palmer has three kids, and she lives near the 85th and Minnesota location. Right now the approved site still looks like farmland with put-together homes literally across the street.

"We don’t want the large retail commercial to be so near our residences, to be so near where our kids are going to school," Palmer says. "There are four schools within a mile or so of that corner. We don’t want our kids to drive through that. I don’t want to drive through that on a daily basis."

Palmer says she took action when she discovered the city planned to allow the most intensive commercial opportunity possible in the primarily residential neighborhood.

"And there just isn’t that transition from single-family to multi-family to office to lower-intense commercial, to the most intense commercial, which is C4," Palmer says. "So there isn’t that transition, and that’s why it’s just an inappropriate place to put such a large commercial center."

"I shop there all the time. They have great prices, and we are a lower-income family," Amanda Recob says. Recob doesn’t live near 85th and Minnesota; in fact, she lives way on the north side of Sioux Falls. She's married and has two daughters. Recob is a stay-at-home mom. 

The 20-something says people deny they buy from Walmart, but parking lot congestion at the two existing SuperCenters shows shoppers flock to the store. Recob supports a new store in southeastern Sioux Falls, because she says that and a Walmart planned farther north can alleviate traffic.

People who live more than three miles from the proposed Walmart  got mailers from the retailer. The heavy paper highlights Walmart’s efforts to support community projects like Feeding South Dakota. It also says the new location is home to about 250 new jobs.

"I mean, there’s plenty of people that need jobs," Recob says. "We’d have less people on welfare if we had more jobs. And we do have lots of jobs around here, but they don’t pay. And Walmart? They pay a good, decent price."

Recob says her one-income household operates on a strict budget. Her husband works, while she cares for MarlieMae and Lulu, who play nearby. Recob is also working on completing a business administration degree. She says the family’s finances simply can’t sustain purchasing everything at higher prices.

"I like to locally buy fruits and vegetables. I like the organic, the local buys. I like to support the people around us and their business," Recob says. "It’s just that, when you have kids to pay for and plenty of bills, Walmart is the place to go for cheaper stuff. I mean, that’s just it."

Recob is right that Walmart sells many items at a lower cost than other big box retailers or mom-and-pop shops. That aspect of the company has observers questioning the motivation of the citizen group Save Our Neighborhood.

The 85th & Minnesota area is almost pristine. Newer homes in earthy tones sit quietly. Lawns are precisely manicured. Group spokeswoman Dana Palmer says Sioux Falls could propose any store of any brand of the same girth and crowding, and the group would argue against it.

"It truly is not about Walmart. People don’t want to believe that. The public wants to believe, well, these are a bunch of rich snobs that live down in this area, they have nothing better to do, they want their fifteen minutes of fame. And people can have those opinions, and I don’t want to legitimize those opinions by even responding to them, but in all honesty, this is not about Walmart," Palmer says. "I welcome a Walmart; I would shop at a Walmart Market there. We cannot have a 185,000 square foot supercenter that generates that much traffic in that area of town."

As the city expands, Sioux Falls is bound to experience some growing pains. City Attorney Dave Pfiefle says Sioux Falls is meticulous with these moves. He calls the lawsuit "ironic."

"Where the neighborhood is situated, that land was annexed into the city of Sioux Falls by using this exact same procedure back in 2003," Pfiefli says. "So by this group asking that this 2013 annexation be voided, are we also voiding the 2003 annexation which happened under the exact same procedures?"

Despite the city’s clash on whether players are abiding by state law, Dana Palmer with Save Our Neighborhood says her citizen group plans to oppose the large commercial facility moving forward, even if Lincoln County leaders get involved and approve the annexation.