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ORLANDO-Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the largest corporation in the United States based on annual sales, is taking on Volusia County government in a courtroom battle that could wind up costing the county $1 million to defend itself, area real estate lawyers tell GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity.

At issue is a 10-acre, environmentally sensitive site on the outskirts of New Smyrna Beach, 50 miles northeast of Downtown Orlando. Wal-Mart badly wants that location at State Road 44 and east of Interstate 95 for an estimated 250,000-sf, $32 million supercenter. About 200 new jobs are at stake.

But Volusia County commissioners, ignoring their own staff’s report favoring Wal-Mart and bowing to community pressure, rejected Wal-Mart’s plans at a public meeting June 20. Residents maintain the proposed development site on wetlands should be preserved and not used for commercial purposes.

The July 19 suit is expected to take at least six months to resolve, area lawyers tell GlobeSt.com. The suit wants the court to overturn the commissioners’ ruling.

“Wal-Mart could force the county to spend thousands and thousands of taxpayers’ dollars in a case Volusia could easily lose and then have to appeal to another court,” a DeLand, FL lawyer intimate with the issue tells GlobeSt.com on condition of anonymity. “If the county hadn’t originally zoned the land for commercial use, it would be in a stronger negotiating position today.”

Volusia County government and Wal-Mart are old antagonists. Two years ago, the county settled a suit filed by a local developer planning a similar Wal-Mart supercenter site on State Road 46. The developer abandoned the Wal-Mart project and instead built apartments and commercial space after the county expedited approvals for the work.

But in DeLand, the county seat of Volusia County, residents are still battling Wal-Mart after five years to keep a supercenter from surfacing in the north end of the city, 40 miles north of Downtown Orlando.

In nearby Seminole County, elected officials this year rejected another 250,000-sf Wal-Mart supercenter at State Road 426 and Red Bug Lake Road in Oviedo, FL, 12 miles from Downtown Orlando. Wal-Mart had been planning that project for two years.

In 2001, the retailer lost a presentation for another site on State Road 46, west of Interstate 4 in Seminole County. And in 1999, Clermont, FL in south Lake County, blocked Wal-Mart’s efforts to build a 287,000-sf supercenter by passing an ordinance that capped big-box developments at 100,000 sf.

However, Target Inc. of Minneapolis, a Wal-Mart rival, later got around that regulation with a concerted public relations and marketing effort aimed at Clermont elected officials and community leaders. Target plans to open a 187,000-sf store in early 2003 near Wal-Mart’s previously designated site.

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