On January 8, 2004, Sprawl-Busters received a report from residents in Cedar Hills, Utah who said they had successfully lobbied their city council, and won a unanimous rejection of a Wal-Mart supercenter. “They indicated that they won’t be back,” the residents said at the time. But like a bad penny, Wal-Mart always turns up. In fact, Wal-Mart did return, and on May 15, 2007, the city council voted to approve a 133,5000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter — subject to final terms of a developer’s agreement. This week the Daily Herald newspaper reports that Wal-Mart and city officials in Cedar Hills have been in negotiations for years — but those talks seem to have gone south. The Herald reports that Wal-Mart’s superstore plans are “in trouble,” because the retailer has refused to abide by the city’s development agreement. Wal-Mart reportedly deleted parts of a proposed agreement the city considers non-negotiable. “Whole sections have been removed,” said one Councilman “We are talking huge, sweeping changes. The council is not prepared to adopt this, or anything substantially like it.” A Wal-Mart spokesman said the city’s requirements had created “heartburn and resistance” at Wal-Mart headquarters. City Council members told the media they were “shocked” to discover this week that Wal-Mart had scratched out more than half of the city’s requirements for the new store — with no explanation. “This is a little bit surprising, shocking — unbelievable might be the word,” said another Councilman. Wal-Mart and the city were working on a 16 page agreement which stipulates the design of the store, allowable noise levels, outdoor sales and storage, traffic, hours of delivery and operation, overnight parking, future vacancy of the site, signs, maintenance, landscaping, open space, water rights and other issues. Council members did not say what parts of the agreement Wal-Mart had deleted. The city’s assistant manager said Wal-Mart had “taken the teeth out” of the city’s ability to enforce standards on the store, which was submitted by PacLand, a prolific big box developer under attack in other cities. “We seemed to be almost on the same page with them on the whole thing and it should not have been a shock to Wal-Mart,” said one Council member. “Instead, we got shocked.” The City planner said Wal-Mart was essentially trying to start a new approval process. In response, the City Council voted unanimously to ask Wal-Mart for a new agreement, and construction approval on the store was delayed. The city will begin “private” discussions with Wal-Mart, at which only two city representatives can be present, in order to avoid the public meetings law. Cedar Hills Mayor Mike McGee apparently does not want the residents of Cedar Hills to know what the city and Wal-Mart are discussing.
Like many of the Wal-Mart supercenters now being designed, the plans for the Cedar Hills store fa??ade has varying roof heights, and different roof pitches, to break up the facade and make it look more like a smaller store. But it’s just the big box wearing a different skin. Its hard to say which is more offensive here: Wal-Mart’s offhand response to the city’s serious concerns, or the Mayor’s suggestion that these negotiations take place without the public or media involved. Whatever deals the Mayor makes affects all the residents in town, many of whom don’t want a huge superstore to begin with. The negotiations over this agreement are every bit as important as the first phase of public hearings on the project itself. This is not a private land deal, this involves public permitting and public resources to provide services to the building. Let Mayor Mike McGee hear from you. Call him at 801-472-6228 and tell him, “Hold firm on your requirements for Wal-Mart — and don’t hesitate to drop the corporation if they don’t shape up. They bring no added value economically to Cedar Hills anyway. Hold your negotiations in public to make the process more transparent.” The Mayor’s email is: [email protected]