On June 22, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that residents of Gresham, Oregon were celebrating a defeat over Wal-Mart. Opponents who fought a Wal-Mart superstore gathered at a place called McMenamins Edgefield. “We’ll gather under the water tower,” said a note from Gresham First. “A wide variety of food and drink is available, and kids are welcome. Please bring your family, friends and neighbors to this community celebration!”
The cause for celebration was clear: Wal-Mart had announced that it would not appeal a ruling by a Hearing Officer in Gresham that cited unreconciled traffic problems with a proposed Wal-Mart supercenter. So there would be no Wal-Mart on 182nd Avenue.
Thus ended a battle that Sprawl-Busters first wrote about on January 27, 2005. But it was not the end of the story, because Wal-Mart is coming back to Gresham three and a half years after it pulled out. This time, however, their proposal will be much smaller.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said in 2007 that Wal-Mart had chosen not to appeal the rejection of their proposal by a city hearings officer. “While disappointed by the decision, a long protracted legal battle is not in anyone’s best interests,” Wal-Mart said in a news release. “Our obligation and our commitment to our customers is to find a site that works for them as well as for the city.”
Gresham hearings officer Joe Turner ruled that Wal-Mart’s traffic study did not resolve traffic problems near the site. The Oregonian quoted one activist as saying, “It’s the outcome I wanted. It’s the outcome that the majority of people that I have spoken to wanted, but deep in their hearts, they thought they didn’t have a chance. I hope this gives courage to other neighborhood associations and to people who don’t want something that doesn’t fit in their neighborhood to stick with it and fight.”
Wal-Mart’s first plan was for a 212,000 s.f. supercenter with two levels of underground parking. That project was rejected on traffic grounds in 2005. The following year, Wal-Mart came back with a store about half that size, and offered to spend $2 million improving local roads and intersections. Wal-Mart purchased the land for $7.83 million after its first proposal was denied.
Wal-Mart has not identified another potential store site in Gresham, but says it is still interested in the trade area. According to Gresham First, “This appears to be the end of a two year battle between the retail giant and Gresham residents, who knew that the chosen site was truly incompatible for such a large development. Our concerns included the impact on existing traffic problems, nearby schools, water, air quality, noise pollution and pedestrian safety.”
Since the Wal-Mart defeat, Gresham has been working on developing “Retail Design and Development Standards.” In March of 2010, city officials were reviewing regulations that would address large format retail, including size, traffic, economic impact, and vacant buildings. It would also create design principles. Gresham has a 190,000 s.f. Fred Meyer store, and a Kmart at 118,000 s.f. One of the options being considered was a prohibition of retail over a specific size. Another alternative investigates the consequences of applying a size limit only on retailers that sell groceries.
In August, 2010 the city held hearings on a proposed ordinance. “This Council Work Plan project is creating regulations that ensure that large format retail meets the community’s vision and provides high-quality design for retail and other commercial development in the arterial corridors,” city planners wrote. “The regulations will: Promote a sense of community and livability; Identify elements of good building and site design; Support the City’s sustainability goals; Address safety issues.”
This week, the Gresham Outlook reports that Wal-Mart has returned to Gresham with plans for a smaller store — one that would not be stopped by the big box ordinance now being considered. The city’s planning director confirmed to the newspaper that Pacland, the Wal-Mart developer, had contacted the city again. “But they haven’t given us any kind of application,” the city planner said.
The giant retailer is apparently planning to put a Neighborhood Market store at a site that once had a Quality Food Center (QFC) store. But planners speculated that the project could also turn out to be a smaller Marketside grocery store.
Under either scenario, Gresham First has indicated that a much smaller store was not likely to stir up the same kind of controversy that killed the Wal-Mart superstore.
Susan Wells, a spokesperson for Gresham First, told the Outlook, “What’s to fight? It’s the same use and the same building.” Her group is anxious for the city to pass its big box ordinance. “It’s good and I hope they vote for it,” Wells told the newspaper. “It’s leaps and bounds better that what they had before. It’s a plan for retail and that makes sense to me.”
Readers are urged to email Gresham’s Associate Planner, Dan McAuliffe, at [email protected] with the following message:
“Dear Mr. McAuliff, Thanks for your work in putting together the Retail Design and Development Standards now under review in Gresham. Adopting a big box ordinance has become a necessity in response to out-of-scale projects by developers. It is time to ‘raise the bar’ for future retail in Gresham. You don’t need any more buildings like the Fred Meyer store.
It is important to deal with the issue of economic impact on public revenues, and to stop allowing developers to come to town with their own impact and traffic studies, which then need to be peer-reviewed. Instead, developers should put up the funds necessary to pay for independent traffic studies, and independent economic impact studies at the outset — rather than more limited peer reviews. This will save developers money — because they will not have to pay for their own studies and the peer reviews. It will save the city time, because you will have an independent study that was not influenced by the developer’s needs. You end up with better data in a shorter period of time. This issue of independent studies is a process detail that is often overlooked in growth ordinances. It should apply to projects of any scale.
Do not process any new Wal-Mart proposals — even smaller formats — until your new ordinance is in place.”