What began in a great rush by Wal-Mart, has now turned into a costly waiting game for the retailer. Roughly three years ago, on December 8, 2004, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart had rushed a zoning proposal to the city offices in Tumwater, Washington just three hours before the City Council voted to put into place a moratorium on large scale retail developments. Tumwater Council members approved the ordinance, which prohibits permits for retail stores larger than 125,000 square feet. The Olympian newspaper described city officials as “stunned” by the Wal-Mart proposal. The retailer wanted to build a 207,000 s.f supercenter and a gas station on 21 acres between a Costco and Home Depot on Littlerock Road. All of this in the shadow of beautiful Mount Rainier. One Council member said Wal-Mart “must have scrambled pretty darn hard to get their application in,” given the short notice time. Then, in late June, 2007, the city council issued a site plan approval for a superstore that was slightly reduced at 187,054 s.f. (but has a 19,700 s.f. garden center as well) and deleted the gas station. The scaled-down site plan was approved with conditions and changes. The city said it would approve two versions of the smaller store, with some roadway conditions changed. “This is an allowed use for that zoning district,” the city’s development services director told the newspaper. “We don’t regulate the size of the building, but we do regulate tree preservation and minimums and maximums for parking spaces.” In response to the city’s approval, a group called The Tumwater Liveable Community (TLC), a local citizen’s group, and Local 367 of the United Food & Commercial Workers filed appeals of Wal-Mart’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the project. According to the appeal, Wal-Mart’s FEIS “contains inadequate, incomplete, and, at times, inaccurate information on the probable significant adverse impacts of the Wal-Mart proposal and alternatives.” The Seattle law firm of Bricklin Newman Dold is representing the group. The appeal charged that the FEIS “fails to comply with the policies and requirements of the State Environmental Policy Act… (and) fails to protect the right of the citizens of Tumwater to a safe and healthful environment.” The two groups asked that Wal-Mart be required to submit a revised environmental report that eliminates negative impacts on the environment. The Olympian reports this week that a Hearing Examiner in Tumwater, Rodney Kerslake, held hearings on the citizen appeal in late October, 2007, and has now ruled in favor of Wal-Mart, and against the Tumwater Liveable Community and United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local No. 367, rejecting their arguments over the inadequacy of the project’s environmental review and the city’s site-plan approval. The 31 page decision was issued two days ago, and says, “the appeal of the various land-use permits issued by the city for the Wal-Mart proposal are affirmed and the appeal of those decisions is denied.” “We are excited about the decision and are looking forward to serving our customers in Tumwater,” a Wal-Mart spokeswoman told the newspaper — but the giant retailer will not be serving its customers in Tumwater any time soon. The Hearing Examiner is only one step in the process. His ruling can now be appealed to the Tumwater City Council by January 2nd. A spokeswoman for Tumwater Livable Community told the newspaper that her group is reveiewing its options. There are at least two more legal steps opponents have — which could easily delay a decision for at least another year.
This project has already cost Wal-Mart three years of delay, and is typical of what is happening across the country. Instead of ribbon cuttings, Wal-Mart first has to pass through local appeals and courts and mounds of legal bills. The TLC said that Wal-Mart’s FEIS “is misleading in many areas, that the manner in which data was collected is prejudicial and fails to accurately account for the real environmental impacts of a proposed Wal-Mart store.” The hearing examiner’s decision can be appealed to the Tumwater City Council and beyond that to the Thurston County Superior Court. The downside is that all this costs money for local residents. For more background on the work of TLC, their website is http://www.livabletumwater.org/. The group is a non-profit entity, and donations are tax-deductible. Checks can be made out to: Tumwater Livable Community, and mailed to: TLC, 855 Trosper Rd. SW. #108-206, Tumwater, WA. 98512. Readers are encouraged to email the members of the Tumwater City Council at: [email protected] Tell the Council: “Tumwater doesn’t need a supercenter nearly three times the size of a football field. If this project is built, you will have to change the name of Mount Rainier to Mount Walton, because you already have 5 Wal-Mart’s within 25 miles of Tumwater — including a supercenter less than 9 miles away. You passed a moratorium with a building size limit law for a reason, but you can stop an out of scale project on site-relatred objections, like traffic or environmental impacts — even without that ordinance. Support your taxpayers, not an out-of-state conglomerate.”