On May 6, 2006, Sprawl-Busters printed a letter from a small merchant in Woodland, Washington, who was concerned about the damage that a proposed 163,000 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter would do to her small town of 4,300 people. “If Wal-Mart comes to Woodland,” she wrote, “I predict many closures and adverse effects for the businesses that have loyally served and supported this town: two groceries, a pharmacy/variety store, a discount variety, two tire shops, an oil and lube shop, a fishing-supply store, a nursery, an office-supply store, numerous hair salons, a vision center, a fabric and craft store, etc. etc. I don’t want to see Woodland’s recently-renovated downtown and our recently-remodeled small shopping center lined with empty storefronts.” Almost one year later, Wal-Mart’s plans for Woodland are still not out of the woods. According to The Daily News, Wal-Mart is challenging a Hearing Examiner’s ruling that will delay the retailer’s plans for a store near the Dike Road exit. Hearing Examiner Irv Berteig ruled that Wal-Mart has to fix flooding problems around the Route 5 interchange. Wal-Mart has complained that the Examiner’s decision is too vague. “We’ll fix what and to what degree?” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the newspaper. “We were all scratching our heads on that one.” But a larger problem for Wal-Mart — the decision says the company can’t begin construction until a traffic study in Woodland is completed, which could take as long as a year and a half. Wal-Mart charges that its superstore is not related to the traffic study, and they should not be held hostage to an open-ended timeframe for the study. Wal-Mart apparently is not challenging Berteig’s contention that Wal-Mart has to do further work with the city regarding traffic problems at the underpass of Route 5. In response to the Hearing Examiner’s decision, Wal-Mart has filed a motion for the decision to be reconsidered, and filed an appeal in Cowlitz County Superior Court. The Examiner’s order was issued because of an appeal filed in July, 2006 by a citizen’s group called Woodlanders Against the Wal. The group had challenged the city’s “determination of mitigated non-significance” for the project. Local residents have not only had to fight Wal-Mart, but their own town officials who rolled over when the giant corporation first appeared in town. The grassroots group had to hire a land use attorney, John Karpinksi, to represent them against the project. Woodlanders Against the Wal indicated this week that the group will oppose Wal-Mart’s attempts to overturn Berteig’s rulings.
Wal-Mart has now spent more than a year wandering through the woods in Woodland. The irony is that local officials have ignored their own economic development and land use plans to support Wal-Mart. Woodland created a non-profit group called “Downtown Woodland Revitalization” under the Main Street U.S.A. program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The goal of DWR is to “market a unified, quality image of the business district as the center of activities, goods, and services to retailers, shoppers, investors and tourists.” Its specific objectives include: 1) Market a positive image for Downtown. 2) Encourage more local shopping. Woodland is working at cross-purposes with itself: trying to create a vibrant downtown, and allowing a Wal-Mart supercenter to build along the highway. These land use goals are not compatible, and Woodland will continue to be internally torn apart until it settles on which goal it wants more. One thing is clear: this store would have been open for business last fall if not for the aggressive actions of the citizen’s group in Woodland. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by “Woodland.”