Sally Elliott wants to hear from you. Elliott is one of three Summit County, Utah Commissioners who has a very big decision to make. Wal-Mart wants to expand its store in Park City, Utah, population just over 8,000, into a Supercenter. “I never make up my mind until I go through the public hearing and weigh all of the public comment and evidence,” Elliott told the Park City Record newspaper. “Public hearings for me are true opportunities for me to learn, so I never make a decision in advance of a public hearing.” Wal-Mart wants to expand its store on North Landmark Drive by adding a 43,000 s.f. grocery store. The County Commissioners will hold a hearing on Wal-Mart’s conditional use request to expand at 4 pm on July 23rd. Wal-Mart has already wooed the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission, which voted 4-0 in favor of the expansion. Park City residents have a dire need for Wal-Mart — especially late at night. Basin Planning Commissioner Julie Baker explained this peculiar need: “You can talk up one side and down the other about how you don’t like Wal-Mart. But, I’m telling you, every person in this town, at 11 o’clock at night before a project is due in school, has been over there buying poster board. Everybody goes over there.” The store today is approximately 73,000 s.f.. That’s enough to hold quite a bit of poster board. Under the expansion, the store would be 115,758 s.f. “I believe the expansion certainly makes what is there better. It’s not a great place right now,” Baker admitted. “The public will not even notice that it is larger.” But Baker’s observations don’t tally with what Sally Elliott has heard from all those Park City residents who are supposedly buying poster board at 11 pm. Elliott says most people she’s spoken to don’t want the Wal-Mart to expand. “I’ve heard from a lot of my constituents, and all of the input I’ve gotten is negative,” she told the Record. Summit County Commission’s Chairman already knows how he’s going to vote — even before the public hearing. Chairman Ken Woolstenhulme told the newspaper he will vote for the expansion. “I thought that we were pretty well all on board in making the expansion,” Woolstenhulme added. “We’ve known that this is coming and that this is in the works, and we’ve known all along that this was going to happen.” It turns out that Woolstenhulme sees the Wal-Mart expansion as part of a larger deal. Wal-Mart gets its grocery story in exchange for helping to rebuild Landmark Drive by selling land to Summit County. “We had to get some property from Wal-Mart in order to do that,” Woolstenhulme explained. The existing Wal-Mart in Park City was built in 1991, when the county had few, if any, zoning restrictions. One member of the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission took the position that if the impacts of the store were addressed, the County Commission had no power to stop the expansion. “we don’t have a choice legally, or we could get sued.” “It’s Wal-Mart’s position that it isn’t really going to impact traffic,” the Planning Commissioner told the newspaper. “We can’t say ‘no’ to expanding a legal nonconforming use if the applicant has mitigated its impacts, and agrees to conform with the code in every respect but the expansion.” The third County Commissioner, Bob Richer, would not reveal how he plans to vote on July 23rd. “We did receive some correspondence some in favor, some opposed,” Richer said.
The Park Record newspaper thinks the Commissioners should vote No on the Wal-Mart expansion. “It has taken Summit County many years to learn how to say no to big-box developers,” the newspaper editorialized on July 11th. “And that lesson has not been easy.” According to the newspaper, when companies like Kmart and Wal-Mart came to town they wore down local officials “with promises of community amenities if approved or expensive lawsuits if denied.” The Record says one local resident even chained himself to a bulldozer to stop the Kmart. But the store opened anyway, “struggled to survive, and finally closed leaving an empty eyesore.” The Summit County Commission has required retailers like Smith’s and Albertson’s to cut back the size of their projects to create smaller, more neighborhood-friendly stores. “But now they are facing the baddest big box of them all Wal-Mart,” the newspaper says, “and the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission has already caved.” The paper adds: “Sorry guys, allowing Wal-Mart to expand from 72,000 to 115,758 square feet does not represent the will of your constituents. Wal-Mart has a reputation for crushing locally owned businesses, for importing goods of questionable quality, for exploiting employees and generally strong arming community planning boards. They haven’t done much to counter that image here in Summit County. It would be a shame to reward that kind of behavior with permission to do it on an even bigger scale. This is especially true when giving Wal-Mart a green flag to go into the grocery business could put nearby established groceries out of business.” County Planners say Wal-Mart will spruce up their ‘old’ store if they are allowed to expand. “Gee, what a nice offer,” the Record says. “How about demanding that they take better care of the square feet they have and become better corporate citizens before asking for favors.” Readers are urged to email the 3 County Commissioners at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Commissioners, You have worked hard to limit the scale of retail stores at Kimball Junction. Now is not the time to throw caution to the wind. You can refuse a conditional use permit — that’s why it’s a conditional use. Wal-Mart is not coming to you for rubber stamp approval. The existing Wal-Mart is already a nonconforming use. Don’t make it a bigger non-conforming use. One Snyderville Planning member thinks you have no power to say No. Then why have a board of Commissioners at all? You have squeezed companies like Albertson’s to get smaller — be consistent. Wal-Mart brings no added value to your local economy. All they will do is put area grocery stores out of business, which means lost jobs. You are not required to allow big stores to expand. Your small population base cannot support a supercenter. This store will harm businesses in neighboring towns as well. All this will increase is the crime and the traffic. And you could easily end up with a huge empty store some day. Do the region a favor, vote No on the Wal-Mart expansion.”