An amendment to a bill currently before the Oregon legislature would give the city of Beaverton, Oregon the right to reject a big box store that is too big, hurts other businesses, or simply doesn’t fit with its neighbors. The bill was approved Thursday by a legislative committee. The amendment, part of a larger land-use bill, would apply to one property in Oregon: 9.3 acres at Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard and U.S. 26. Under House Bill 3310, big box opponents could block a store if they can demonstrate the store has an adverse impact on small businesses in the area, or is not compatible with the community. Current zoning law in Oregon allows citizens to raise issues like how a use will affect roads, sewers and other infrastructure. Sen. Charlie Ringo, D-Beaverton, one of the bill’s sponsors, says it would restore some balance in the struggle between residents and the world’s largest business. “The process needs to be more than a rubber stamp,” Ringo said. “This bill ensures that Oregonians have as much say in this process as does some company in Arkansas. That’s only fair.” The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote. Wal-Mart has not filed an application yet with Beaverton, but it has proposed a 149,000 s.f. store, which would become Washington County’s first Wal-Mart. The city of Beaverton annexed the property from the county shortly before Wal-Mart announced its plans. According to the Oregonian newspaper, the land had been zoned by the county to allow a big-box retail store, limiting the issues Beaverton’s Board of Design Review and the City Council can consider. Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, told the committee the annexation and other complicated land-use concerns made this a unique situation. “In this case, I think there’s real reason to be concerned about this specific issue,” he said. Two members of Save Cedar Mill, a group formed to oppose Wal-Mart’s proposal for Beaverton, testified in favor of the bill. “It seems to us that Oregon’s land-use laws and protocols were not developed to deal with such overwhelming retail superpowers,” Save Cedar Mill said. “Our issue, and this amendment, are about community participation.” A spokesman for Associated Oregon Industries, which represented Wal-Mart at Thursday’s hearing, said the bill discriminates against large retailers and is unnecessary because of the state’s existing land-use laws. “Big boxes get denied all time,” the group said. Wal-Mart has stores in Medford and Talent, Oregon, and has proposed replacing those with two 200,000 s.f. supercenters in Medford and Central Point. Both proposals have been held up in appeals, although the Medford proposal may have cleared its last hurdle.
As Wal-Mart moves into Oregon with supercenters, it will begin to shut down some of its existing discount stores, adding the state of Oregon to its growing list of states with empty Wal-Marts. There are currently 356 empty Wal-Marts in 41 states. Many communities now have laws that require developers to present information on the economic impact of their stores (see the Aberdeen, South Dakota story). When such studies are done by the developer, they always conclude the superstore will help, not hurt the community. For this reason, economic impact studies must be independently conducted by a consultant hired directly by the city or town, but paid for at the developer’s expense. The proposed Oregon law is no longer unusual. For earlier stories about Oregon victories over Wal-Mart, search Newsflash by “Oregon.”