Wal-Mart, Neptune Beach Enlist Mediator; Formal Mediation Will Begin Thursday to Settle the City's Dispute with the Retailer

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NEPTUNE BEACH - Mediation is scheduled to begin Thursday to resolve a dispute between Wal-Mart and the city, which rejected the retailer's plans for a 117,000-square-foot Supercenter off Atlantic Boulevard.

Wal-Mart attorneys initially asked for a mediation hearing with a special master, which is intended to alleviate the need for a lawsuit.

A special master, a mediator appointed by the court or agreed upon by the parties in a dispute, presides over a hearing and often recommends settlements.

In the Wal-Mart case, the city and the retailer agreed to accept special magistrate Carlos Alverez as the mediator.

The initial round of the negotiations is set for Thursday morning at the Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville. Then, at 7 p.m. Thursday, the proceeding moves to Neptune Beach City Hall, 116 First St., to allow public comment. If necessary, the mediation will resume Friday morning at the law school.

Neptune Beach Vice Mayor Harriet Pruette, who voted against the Wal-Mart proposal to build a Supercenter in the 600 block of Atlantic Boulevard, said the mediation is important to the character of the city.

"It's non-binding. But I think it's important that people in the community go down [to City Hall] and let the mediator see them and hear them," Pruette said. "The traffic concerns every one of us; that's where we really have to look at, is the traffic.

"Anything 100,000 square feet or over is out of proportion with our code," Pruette said. "Today we have a different shopping area than we had 15 years ago."

Wal-Mart's proposal was opposed by hundreds of residents.

Wal-Mart attorney Karl Sanders cited the Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act, which can establish a non-judicial settlement over private property disputes, in his original brief requesting the mediation. The law allows property owners to seek "relief from a governmental decision that unfairly or unreasonably restricts the landowner's use of [the] property. …


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