Livonia Board Approves Plans for New Wal-Mart

Zlati Meyer and Cecil Angel, Detroit Free Press, Sept. 21

City officials voted early this morning to recommend the development of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Livonia after more than 500 residents thronged to a city meeting Tuesday night, fueling an ongoing battle against the proposal, which has drawn some racially charged complaints.

At a 6 1/2-hour meeting, the planning commission voted 6-1 to recommend the project which will include a neighboring Target and approximately 40 specialty shops and restaurants. The City Council will consider the recommendation, but a council vote on the issue has not been scheduled yet. The tension at previous meetings caused the chairman of the Planning Commission, John Walsh, to warn Tuesday night’s audience against racial outbursts. “The issue of race will not have an impact on the meeting tonight,” he said. “I recommend that people who harbor racist fears keep them to themselves.”

During public meetings in August, several opponents of the project—which would replace retail areas at the old Wonderland Mall—made racial comments. They included fears about black people from Detroit coming to Livonia to shop and work, and the suggestion that Livonia would become a ghetto. But others denounced the racially-tinged diatribes.

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But the bulk of the crowd seemed to be against the new project or against the store itself.

Tina Sabbadin, 43, said she lives a block away from the mall and is worried about a berm that would separate the project from the residential neighborhood behind it where she lives.

“I don’t want nobody standing on that berm looking in my house, seeing what I’ve got in there,” she said. “It’s a joke. This whole mess is a joke.”Julie Roach, 35, said that all of Livonia will suffer because the project will bring an increase in crime.

“They wouldn’t do it in Novi. They didn’t do it in Plymouth,” she said. “We need to have our standards up higher.”

The project’s developer, the Schostak Bros., and Wal-Mart hosted a meeting Aug. 9 and two meetings Aug. 10.

Racially charged comments were widespread at both of those meetings—although they drew rebukes from one of the developers, Robert Schostak, and a few other residents.

“We will not have a discussion like this. I will let you talk about anything you want but this,” Schostak interjected at the Aug. 10 night meeting.

The comments also elicited a fiery reaction from Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

“As mayor of the city of Detroit and as an African-American man, I deeply resent and am outraged by the numerous slurs that were expressed at the hearing and quoted in the article. All people of goodwill in this region should be equally outraged,” Kilpatrick said in a prepared statement.

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