On March 13, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that the residents of Chandler, Arizona had grown used to Wal-Mart’s on-again, off-again superstore plans. Since 2003, Wal-Mart has pulled out of two Chandler projects, after a developer had spent months working on the project. In the early spring of 2005, Wal-Mart pulled out of the so-called “Riggs Gateway” project. At the time, Wal-Mart told The Arizona Republic, “We’re not going to move forward to build a store at that particular location. We are reassessing our options to determine what is in the best interests of our customers.” The newspaper described Chandler as a city “beleaguered by announcements of Wal-Mart sites, objections from neighbors, and flurries of public relations campaigns.” Chandler certainly does not need more Wal-Marts. There are three Wal-Marts already open. In each case, local residents fought doggedly to stop the stores. The Riggs Gateway project was offered by a developer called Diversified Partners. On August 15, 2008, three years and four months after their withdrawal from Riggs, Diversified came back again with a “secret” tenant they would not reveal — but local folks said it was just a Wal-Mart revisited. The Chandler City Council did not even have to hear the “W” word before voting unanimously to send the most recent plans for the Riggs Gateway shopping center back to the Planning and Zoning Commission. The city council rebuffed the P&Z Commission, which voted unanimously, 5-0, to support the Diversified plan for the Riggs Gateway. The developers’ lawyer warned the city council that more delays could injure the project, because the unnamed tenant “demanded” zoning approval before they would commit to the property. Neighbors opposed to the Wal-Mart claim that they found out the proposed store was a Wal-Mart not from the developer, but from a real estate agent. After their 2005 victory, the neighbors said they were promised that the next proposal for the Riggs site would not be another big box. But Diversified submitted a new plan with only minor shrinkage in the store size. The opponents say that Diversified has been hiding its true plans, and that the Wal-Mart proposed for this site will only be a slightly smaller version of the one they killed three years ago. As usual, Wal-Mart publicly said it had no plans for a store at Riggs Cateway. But opponents were not fooled. According to the Arizona Republic, residents were ready to start a referendum petition if Diversified keeps hiding its anchor tenant, and if the council votes to allow in a Wal — Mart. “I don’t think they want that right now, especially since this is an election year,” one opponent said. Chandler has a big box ordinance that requires the developer to name its tenants if they are larger than 150,000 s.f. The Diversified plan came in at 131,000 s.f. Chandler City Councilman Bob Caccamo told the Arizona Republic, “We were assured it was going to be an upscale retail center and it’s not. It looks like the big, bland generic shopping center with tons of parking in the front and buildings set way back that were built here 20 years ago.” This week, a shopping center plan for Riggs Road was unanimously approved by the Chandler Planning and Zoning Commission — again. Diversified Partners is still saying there’s no anchor tenant yet. But neighbors fear Wal-Mart will go into the footprint, which is now 114,000 s.f. Kirk Sibley, one of the opponents of the project, has gathered the signatures of abutters, and forced the city council to vote at least 6-1 in favor of the plan. That could put opponents in the catbird’s seat, because two Councilmen, Bob Caccamo and Matt Orlando, have indicated their opposition to the plan. In September of 2008, three councilors stated their opposition to the Wal-Mart, so the numbers seem to be working against Wal-Mart.
Diversified Partners insists that it won’t begin to market the project to potential tenants until their zoning request is approved. “We were hoping for a neighborhood shopping center, not a big noisy one with a lot of traffic.” Sibley told the Arizona Republic. He said the site should be “something our city can be proud of for years to come, and not some cookie-cutter, sprawling big-box project.” The anti-Wal-Mart group, Riggs Residents for Retail Diversity, have already notched one Wal-Mart defeat in their belt. Under Chandler’s big box law, Diversified does not have to reveal who their tenant is, because no store is 150,000 s.f. or larger. In March of 2007, Chandler, under the leadership of its Mayor Boyd Dunn, produced a report called “Next Twenty: A New, Progressive Agenda For Chander.” The report charts the astounding growth of Chandler over the past twenty years, from a community of 90,000 people in 1990, to more than 247,000 people today. Chandler turned into a “Boomburb” — a suburb growing at an incredibly rapid speed. This report is probably the most coherent argument against the continuation of suburban sprawl patterns of development. Next Twenty notes that “Most economic activity is being created by new,homegrown businesses” in Chandler — not by big box national chains. The task facing Chandler is to create “a unique economic base for a Boomburb while protecting — and taking advantage of — its distinctive historical character and downtown.” The consultants who prepared this vision statement for Chandler advised that it was time for the city “to take a proactive approach to the post-Boomburb era. With limited land resources, a changing economic base — and a changing role in the Valley of the Sun metropolis — Chandler has the opportunity to “set the pace” for maturing Boomburbs all over the country.” Readers are urged to email Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn at [email protected] with the following message: “Mayor Dunn, Chandler has a limited land supply that is rapidly decreasing. At the same time, you have 20 Wal-Marts within 15 miles of Chandler, including a dozen supercenters. It’s time to move beyond the sprawl age, and ensure that Boomburg does not become Sprawlburg. As you implement the Next Twenty report, remember the 20 Wal-Marts you already have, and the foolishness of throwing away land at the Riggs Gateway for a Wal-Mart. If you want to keep your downtown vital, make Chandler connected, keep pedestrians at the center of planning — then a big box store makes no sense, and the Diversified plan should be rejected once and for all. Chandler does have a chance to “set the pace” for Boomburgs everywhere — but not by adding more big box sprawl. Wal-Mart is not part of the “new,progressive agenda” for Chandler. It destroys city character, kills smaller merchants, and does nothing but kick up the crime and traffic counts. I urge you to dismiss the recommendation of the Planning & Zoning Commission, which has voted more than once for the Riggs location. They were wrong before, and they are still wrong today.”