On December 3, 2006, Sprawl-Busters updated the story of residents in Pullman, Washington, who were engaged in a marathon legal battle to block a Wal-Mart supercenter in their community. In March of 2006, residents lost an appeal of a city ruling in favor of Wal-Mart before a Hearing Examiner, and took their appeal to Whitman County Superior Court. That court appeal went in Wal-Mart’s favor as well, but the battle continued. At the end of 2006, The Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development (PARD) announced that it was taking its case against the proposed Pullman Wal-Mart to the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Spokane. PARD legal liaison T.V. Reed stated that “while the appeal will be costly, we have had great support from thousands of folks in the community, and currently have a new membership drive under way. PARD will continue to make the case that a huge supercenter on Bishop Boulevard would drastically impede access to the hospital, be dangerous for pedestrians, and negatively impact the local economy.” PARD argued that the information regarding the traffic impact was inadequate. The State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) states that any determination of non-significance must be based on adequate information. Second, both the SEPA and the Site Plan require that it be clearly determined that the Wal-Mart Supercenter would not have a negative fiscal impact on the city causing blight. PARD’s appeal argued that the determination made was based on insufficient data as well. In his November, 2006 ruling, Judge David Frazier praised PARD’s thorough research and substantial evidence about traffic dangers and the lack of an independent analysis of the impact of the supercenter on the local economy. Christopher Lupke, the group’s media coordinator, said, “PARD members feel strongly that at each level of appeal we have raised awareness of the dangers of the project, and that we owe it to our thousands of supporters to continue our work to stop the project or make it safer.” “Our lawyer has devised a new legal strategy for this next level of appeal, and we are confident that we will win if the evidence is weighed carefully,” Reed added. PARD member Alex Hammond remarked that it “is important to realize that nothing PARD has done puts Wal-Mart under an injunction. They could have started building months ago. That they haven’t started suggests that they have understood all along that we have a strong case.” Reed added that in his ruling Judge Frazier emphasized that “‘zoning laws always trump comprehensive plans.’ What that means for Pullman is that all the lovely sentiments in our city Comprehensive Plan are meaningless unless we enact zoning laws that actually support responsible, environmentally and economically sustainable development. Wal-Mart is just one part of a much larger problem.” This week, PARD announced that it was abandoning its legal battle to block Wal-Mart. PARD Board Member Cynthia Hosick said group members voted via e-mail whether to take their case to the Washington State Supreme Court. “I think the decision to stop is reasonable, because … I think it probably wouldn’t go too much farther,” Hosick told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson indicated his pleasure that the store was now moving forward. In his gracious way, he said PARD’s fight against the super center had delayed development of other stores in Pullman, as well as the collection of sales tax and the addition of several traffic lights Wal-Mart will pay to have installed on Bishop Boulevard. “From a city standpoint, this is a very good thing,” the Mayor said.
Whenever zoning cases result in a controversial win/lose scenario, they are never good. And when a Mayor attacks his own taxpayers, that’s not good either. This battle began in October of 2004. PARD was fighting not only Wal-Mart, but city officials as well, who said the huge project would not have a negative impact on the environment. PARD asserted that the store would adversely affect stormwater run-off, traffic and the local economy. PARD presented its case to a hearing examiner in Pullman, who supported the city’s decision, and then to Whitman County Superior Court, which also ruled against the citizens. PARD then went to the Division III Court of Appeals, which took five months to make its decision — again in support of the city. PARD said a traffic report done by the city showed clearly that millions dollars of upgraded infrastructure will be needed as a result of this superstore plan. Unfortunately, PARD says, this traffic report was not released until March of 2008, effectively too late to use in its court filings. “We weren’t able to have the traffic study be part of the appeal and that’s a biggie. I think without that an appeal would be very iffy,” she said. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the Daily News that the retailer was ready to begin site work even if PARD had chosen to continue its legal appeal. “It’s probably a wise decision on their part,” the Wal-Mart spokesman said. “The chance of being heard by the Supreme Court is slim. But we had decided to move forward whether they did (appeal) or not.” Readers are urged to email Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson at http://www.pullman-wa.gov/DrawContact.aspx?ContactName=Mayor%20and%20Council with the following message: “Dear Mayor Johnson, Now that you have stated that Wal-Mart will be a ‘very good thing’ for Pullman, you might want to consider a city ordinance that will: 1) limit the hours of superstores to reduce future crime and noise at this site 2) require developers to post a ‘demolition bond’ to cover the cost of tearing down their store if the building ceases to be used for its original retail purpose for 12 consecutive months 3) limit the size of superstores in any zone that abuts residential property 4) require a cost/benefit analysis of the impact of large retail projects on city revenues. If Wal-Mart is a ‘very good thing,’ why were so many residents upset about this project? These people that you say cost the city lost revenues — these are your taxpayers, your constituents. You are the Mayor of all Pullman residents, not just the Mayor of Corporate Interests. Zoning decisions do not have to be a win/lose situation. When people believe they are on the losing end of a deal — they are usually right. Pullman was not prepared for a project of this scale. It’s time to bring your zoning code into the 21st century, before more big boxes saturate your city with highway sprawl.”