Lowe’s may be improving home improvement, but residents in Sonora, California see the giant retailer’s proposed 112,000 s.f. store as no improvement at all to their small city. A group called the Tuolumne County Citizens for Responsible Growth filed a suit late last week in Superior Court against the 11 acre project, charging that the city neglected to follow six mandatory procedures of the California Environmental Quality Act; violated local ordinances and regulations, including not requiring the proper number of parking spaces; and violated the Political Reform Act, by allowing a Planning Commissioner to participate in decisions about the project, even though a landscaping company he owned had worked for the developers within a year of the time he was helping to make decisions about it. Defendants in the lawsuit are the City of Sonora and City Council, the Sonora Planning Commission, the developer California Gold Development Corp., the landowner, and Lowe’s. Citizens for Responsible Growth, which was formed four years ago, has already successfully fought off a Home Depot in Sonora. The city also needs to get approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to move a railroad crossing.
Lowe’s is the 129th largest corporation in the world, with sales in 2004 of roughly $36.4 billion. It is the second largest home improvement chain in the world, but is only one-eighth the size of Wal-Mart. Lowe’s benefits from the fact that Wal-Mart attracts much more attention than the North Carolina-based retailer, but its land development strategy is every bit as aggressive and misguided as Wal-Mart, and more communities are realizing that Lowe’s is just a blue Home Depot, and Home Depot is just Wal-Mart with a hammer.