SCALA, Wal-Mart fallout: On being a self-appointed

A couple of weeks ago before his fellow SCALA members at a Rotary Club luncheon, Mr. David Jones, Sr. publicly called me and the other plaintiffs in the Wal-Mart lawsuit “self-appointed busybodies” and “officious interlopers.” Mr. Jones has admittedly never met us and, after speaking with him, it’s clear he knows little of our position.

His name-calling and disapproval are based partially on the narrative that we “killed the Wal-Mart” (an exploration of other reasons for his petty banter requires more space than what we have here). Despite the Planning Commission and Board of Zoning and Adjustments granting Wal-Mart the freedom to build as it wished, local ministers praying for the retailer, multiple courts dismissing our lawsuit and Wal-Mart sharing that its business model had changed, we continue to be tasked with killing the project.

I had to consult a dictionary to clarify the full meaning of “officious interloper.” The label suggests we, the plaintiffs, had no official capacity to intervene in the Wal-Mart project. Mr. Jones calling us such, logically means one of two things: 1) Mr. Jones had some official business in the deal, so he carries some standing in telling us we were meddling in others’ business (his?); or, 2) he, too, is an interloper.

If we continue with the tale that self-appointed busybodies stopped a multi-billion dollar company from building a mediocre, outdated building in West Louisville, then other aspects of this story must also hold true.

This would mean that Mayor Greg Fischer and his economic development team were inept in their efforts.

People of faith may be asking why God didn’t answer the prayers of the righteous ministers who requested His intervention.

To continue the narrative that we “killed the Wal-Mart” and that this was our intention, would also denote many others didn’t work hard enough to get it done. Perhaps, we need more busybodies — those self-appointed, elected and paid.

There are levels to interloping…

What I tried to convey to Mr. Jones in our phone discussion, is that our busybody interloping was grounded in our desire to demand the best for West Louisville; and, as an engaged citizen who also happens to have a master’s degree in urban planning, I had no choice but to stand up for what I know to be right — and just.

It’s been quite difficult to clearly articulate the aspects of our position. The announcement of Passport Health acquiring property and building its new headquarters at 18th Street and Broadway sheds light on what was wrong with the Wal-Mart plan.

Passport will build its headquarters — the catalyst for the 22-acre development — to the street as the Land Development Code demands. Wal-Mart refused to present a plan to build its store to the street, and its attorney, Deborah Bilinski, who Mayor Fischer appointed as director of Develop Louisville soon after the project ended, argued that the company could not afford to do so.

Passport is building a parking garage instead of a massive parking lot. Wal-Mart’s plan included over 600 parking spaces that would have faced Broadway — doubling what the Code allows.

This part of Wal-Mart’s plan was baffling.

Why would the retailer insist on these spaces — and the Planning Commission and BOZA allow — when the bus stops at the intersection see the highest ridership of any stops across the county? Where has anyone ever seen a Wal-Mart Superstore parking lot full — anywhere across the country?

Mr. Jones kept saying to me, “Wal-Mart was going to provide so much hope! Hope is what people need.”

Wal-Mart was building a brick box and further creating a heat island. The parking lot literally would have been a concrete jungle of wasted asphalt, filled with trash from the fast-food spots that would have followed.

Nearly three years to the day after the Wal-Mart project was approved, Passport broke ground last week to create a health and wellness campus with a modern, urban-designed glass building as its company headquarters that will face West Louisville’s major boulevard with plazas indoor and out for people to engage its space.

Wal-Mart was building a fence.

It should be quite clear, if we are hinging hope on a project, that what we have now provides much more hope than the former.

Mr. Jones, “This is what a win (hope) looks like!” as Mayor Fischer said at the Passport press conference. Let’s celebrate it!

Let’s also celebrate Superintendent Mike Polio’s rejection of SCALA’s invitation to join efforts for a state takeover of JCPS. Certainly, JCPS needs reforming and that work has to be collaborative, transparent, daring and innovative, while also privileging the desires of the users of the system — teachers, parents and students. I hope Polio plans to talk with us…

Without our voices, everyone else is just interloping, I suppose. •

Cassia Herron is a social justice advocate and freelance writer with a master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Michigan.