The Big Issues in Walmart’s Construction Controversy

The Big Issues in Walmart’s Construction Controversy

Photo by Sandy Coronilla

A view of the construction being performed on the iconic Sherman Heights Farmers Market last week as seen through a hole in covering surrounded the work area.

 

The old, pink iconic Farmers Market building in Sherman Heights last week became a flashpoint for community controversy when Walmart bulldozers dug into one of the building’s walls.

Activists immediately took the company to court, claiming it’s demolishing a historic building without a permit. Walmart, which is building a store on the site, says the work is authorized under the permits it has.

The company has said it needs to bring the building up to earthquake safety codes and that the wall isn’t being torn down. Instead, the company has argued it created a hole through which it could clear debris from the inside

The activists want the courts to halt construction, and Walmart agreed to stop work to allow the judge to review the complaint ahead of a hearing this morning.

We tried to pin down what’s known — and not known — about the controversy.

Here’s What We Know About the Complaint

There are two main issues: whether the building is historic and whether Walmart has the proper authority to be doing what it’s doing.

Attorney Cory Briggs argues that Imperial Market Investors, the owner of the land, is demolishing a historic building without a valid permit. He claims that the market meets the definition of a historic building according to the city’s municipal code.

In 2007, the city of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation determined that the land on which the market sits meets the criteria for designation as a historical resource, but it has never established that the buildings themselves meet the same criteria.

A spokesperson for the city’s Development Services Department, which oversees the process of building and construction on city land, said on Thursday that based on an August 2011 review the building itself is eligible for historical designation.

Walmart contests this in its opposition to the restraining order, filed with the court Friday. It says the city concluded the building was not a historic resource in 2007, and that determination was never challenged.

Here’s What We Know About the Permit

In 2009, the city granted a conditional use permit to the owners of the site for the continued operation of a large retail facility at the site of the Farmers Market. That permit allows for special uses outside of the usual zoning requirements, but with conditions attached.

The permit says that “no physical improvements are proposed other than those required for unreinforced masonry correction plans.”

But an addendum was added later in the year, which said staff with the Historic Resources Board, a city planning division, had determined the buildings were potentially eligible for historic designation, “and as such, any work to the building must conform to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and receive approval from the [Historic Resources] staff prior to the commencement of work.”

Briggs argued that Walmart didn’t get this approval before partially demolishing the Farmers Market’s exterior brick façade. He said once the buildings were determined to be potentially eligible for historic designation, the permit needed to go through the city’s Planning Commission. It didn’t. Instead a sole hearing officer signed off on it, making this a violation of the city’s land development decision process, Briggs said.

Walmart plans to build a neighborhood market at the location, incorporating it into the existing building. It says the work it was doing that has caused so much controversy was just part of this.

In the hierarchy of permits, the conditional use permit has more weight than what are called ministerial, or over-the-counter, construction permits. Walmart says it obtained a ministerial permit in late 2011 to remodel the interior of the building.

This, they say, allows for the construction they began this week.

Briggs says the ministerial permit was granted illegally, without consideration of the conditional use permit, which trumps it.

City law states that before any construction or development permit can be issued on a building more than 45 years old, such as the Farmers Market, the Mayor’s Office must first determine whether a historical screening process is necessary. If so, it must be performed.

But this also didn’t happen with the Sherman Heights Farmers Market.

What We Don’t Know

We don’t know if the work that was done qualifies under the existing permit.

Walmart’s spokeswoman said the demolition was being done to bring the building up to code and to meet today’s earthquake standards. The building, she said, is simply not safe.

The city said the work done is well within the scope of the work authorized by the lower-level, ministerial permit. In court, the city has sided with Walmart, opposing the temporary restraining order.

But it’s the conditional use permit that holds greater weight, and the city has not said that the work performed meets those conditions.

Briggs argues Walmart is not authorized to demolish any portion of the building since it’s eligible for historic designation.

The court hearing is set for this morning at 9 a.m.

Sandy Coronilla reports on local government and education for voiceofsandiego.org. She is on the Armen E. Keteyian Scholarship for Investigative Reporting. You can contact her directly at sandy.coronilla@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

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Sandy Coronilla

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10 comments
Robert Campbell
Robert Campbell subscriber

I live in Sherman Heights, I am glad Walmart is coming, the area now is trash, graffiti, gangs, and crime. Historic? Most buildings and houses in the area have been illegally modified without permits to the point that they have little to no historic value. Can't wait for the crappy little liquor stores to go out of business. This i a good thing.

Robert Campbell
Robert Campbell

I live in Sherman Heights, I am glad Walmart is coming, the area now is trash, graffiti, gangs, and crime. Historic? Most buildings and houses in the area have been illegally modified without permits to the point that they have little to no historic value. Can't wait for the crappy little liquor stores to go out of business. This i a good thing.

David Packham
David Packham subscriber

Hardcover, I agree with you, but some of these entities only hold public meetings for show, there is no real substance, as the city n"leaders" already have their minds made up, I can think of few places in which civic leaders have such contempt for the will and desires of the citizens.....and knowing them, they will schedule stuff for when most people are working and unable to attend meetings, I cannot count how many times I've seen "public" meetings scheduled in this manner

Dave92104
Dave92104

Hardcover, I agree with you, but some of these entities only hold public meetings for show, there is no real substance, as the city n"leaders" already have their minds made up, I can think of few places in which civic leaders have such contempt for the will and desires of the citizens.....and knowing them, they will schedule stuff for when most people are working and unable to attend meetings, I cannot count how many times I've seen "public" meetings scheduled in this manner

David Packham
David Packham subscriber

I have been on a boycott of Wal-Mart for several years, and am actively involved on online forums such as "Walmartwatch.com" and "wakeupwalmart.com", they are a despicable company, and more people need to become aware of the abhorrent practices of this dastardly corporation....corporate American at it's worst.....I'm not saying Target is fantastic, but Wal-Mart absolutely disgusts me to no avail!!

Dave92104
Dave92104

I have been on a boycott of Wal-Mart for several years, and am actively involved on online forums such as "Walmartwatch.com" and "wakeupwalmart.com", they are a despicable company, and more people need to become aware of the abhorrent practices of this dastardly corporation....corporate American at it's worst.....I'm not saying Target is fantastic, but Wal-Mart absolutely disgusts me to no avail!!

Chris Gulyas
Chris Gulyas subscriber

The next question is "How much money passed thgrough hands?"

pn2usn
pn2usn

The next question is "How much money passed thgrough hands?"

Erik Hanson
Erik Hanson subscriber

The City claims that the demolished wall was "from the 1949s to the 1960s". It's a simple fact that walls were not constructed in this manner (hollow clay tile with red brick accenting) that late. It looksike 1920s work to me, and I doubt anyone could prove much different. Just one example of the City's neglect. They need to start taking everything to public meetings, the ministerial actions on big, public, and beloved sites such as the Caliente mural, Ford Dealership, and now this need to end.

hardcover
hardcover

The City claims that the demolished wall was "from the 1949s to the 1960s". It's a simple fact that walls were not constructed in this manner (hollow clay tile with red brick accenting) that late. It looksike 1920s work to me, and I doubt anyone could prove much different. Just one example of the City's neglect. They need to start taking everything to public meetings, the ministerial actions on big, public, and beloved sites such as the Caliente mural, Ford Dealership, and now this need to end.