Residents in Chandler, Arizona know what it’s like to fight, and beat, a Wal-Mart. They also know what it’s like to be saturated with Wal-Marts. There is currently a Wal-Mart at Alma School and Warner, which is scheduled to close in the near future, to be replaced by a Supercenter at Arizona Avenue and Palomino. There is a 2nd Wal-Mart Supercenter under construction at Arizona Avenue and Loop 202, and a 3rd Supercenter approved for Gilbert Road and Loop 202. As Newsflash has reported in 1999, Wal-Mart came to Chandler, lost a vote at the City Council, later sued the city, and ended up on the losing end of the deal. The developer at the time, Vestar, ended up dumping Wal-Mart from its plans at the corner of Queen Creek and Alma School. Of course, Wal-Mart watchers know that one victory is never enough in Wal-Mart’s case. Like a vulture, the giant retailer circles a community looking for another place to feed. Now Chandler residents have had to organize to fight off several developers with Wal-Mart superstores in tow. Here’s a report from the frontlines in Chandler from one citizens’ group, Riggs Residents for Retail Diversity (RRRD): “Pressure from South Chandler residents has forced developer Diversified Partners to request a continuance the December 15th Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. At the last-minute community outreach meeting Monday night, Diversified Partners announced plans to solicit more input from area residents. The announcement comes at the end of an 18-month planning process that has only recently included public comment from the surrounding community. The Riggs Gateway project, which includes a Wal-Mart Supercenter, is proposed for the northeast corner of Riggs Road and Arizona Avenue, and lies less than 5 miles south of another planned Wal-Mart Supercenter at Arizona Avenue and Loop 202. About 75 residents attended last night’s meeting, compared to the over 300 area homeowners that attended the developer’s first attempt at public comment. That meeting, held November 30th, was widely criticized for the lack of public input and was described by many attendees as a sales pitch. Speakers at Monday night’s meeting asked questions on a variety of topics, including architecture, projected traffic and crime, and the economic impact of an additional Wal-Mart Supercenter in Chandler. Diversified Partners talked about increasing Riggs Road and Arizona Avenue to three lanes. The Riggs Gateway project has created considerable controversy since it was revealed that the anchor tenant was to be a Wal-Mart Supercenter, and the most impassioned speakers talked about the expected impact of a Wal-Mart in their neighborhood, and their fears regarding crime increases and negative economic impact to the area. Residents pointed out that the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Main Street in Mesa, Arizona has a police substation attached to the building to address crime issues in the area. The Homeowners’ Association from Riggs Ranch Meadows expressed concern that lease-locks not be a part of any lease agreement with the anchor tenant, which could impact the ability of alternative retailers to lease the site should the anchor tenant choose to leave. Diversified Partners did not comment directly on crime issues or lease locks. Opposition to the developer’s current plan is summed up by area homeowner and RRRD co-chair Linda Baer, “We expect property values to decline significantly, crime and traffic to increase significantly, and negative economic impact in the community due to neighborhood businesses failing. Diversified Partners has not provided any independent data that contradicts this view.” City staff have confirmed that no economic impact study has been conducted for the project. Municipalities across the country, including Los Angeles, have begun requiring independent economic impact studies prior to granting zoning for “big box” retailers. Chandler currently does not have such a requirement unless zoning is requested that varies from the City’s General Plan. The developer recently has been conducting phone surveys, asking residents if they had a positive or negative impression of each member of the City Council. The survey, which named each councilmember individually, went on to ask residents’ opinions of a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the corner of Arizona Avenue and Riggs Road.” Developers use such surveys to pressure city officials to support their project, and to identify voters supportive of the plan. Another survey was handed out to people beyond the immediate affected neighborhood.
Riggs Residents for Retail Diversity (RRRD), a grassroots homeowners’ advocacy group, has organized opposition to the project due to concerns about crime, traffic, and economic impact to the area. According to co-chair Tammy Powers, “Retail diversity in southern Chandler is important to us. Our residents want a variety of retail choices in the immediate area, and if we want to go to a Wal-Mart, there’s already one planned less than 5 miles away. Including the Wal-Mart Supercenters at Arizona Avenue and Loop 202, and at Gilbert and the 202, this will be the third Supercenter within a 3-mile radius. Does Chandler really need that kind of concentration by one retailer?” Wal-Mart has a reputation for negatively impacting local merchants, which ultimately limits the choice of nearby shopping locations. For more information on the group, go to www.riggsgateway.com