Wal-Mart is like a cheap pair of underwear. They keep creeping up on you. So it is in Springfield, Oregon, where it turns out that Wal-Mart has been meeting with city planners for more than a month, apparently without the knowledge of local residents. A newspaper report in The Register-Guard says that Wal-Mart plans to build a 200,000 s.f. superstore, plus another 100,000 s.f. big box, plus another 100,000 s.f. of smaller store, clustered on the site of the old Springfield airport. The Wal-Mart by itself would be the biggest store in the entire county. This is according to the city’s Planning Supervisor. It turns out that Wal-Mart submitted plans to the city on December 6th, but the plans did not become public until a month later. The City Planner revealed that he and other city staffers met with Wal-Mart several times by phone and in person to discuss their plans. None of the content of these meetings have ever been made public. “As a courtesy” to Wal-Mart, the Planner’s office gave the company’s preliminary plans a once-over, and highlighted several issues that must be addressed before the plan moves forward. Included on the list are traffic, wetlands concerns, and noise. The land Wal-Mart wants abuts a residential neighborhood, and the Wal-Mart loading dock, air compressors and other machinery are all located near the homes. Without the project having come to a public hearing, the City Planner is already on board. “It’s not like ‘there’s a fatal flaw, this project’s not going to go,'” he told reporters. “I think it could be a really nice addition to that end of town.”
The residents of Springfield may not agree with the City Planner that Wal-Mart will be a “really nice addition” to their community. In fact, it’s hard to say who they should be angrier at: the company that wants to build an overscaled superstore complex next to a residentially-zoned area, or the officials on the city payroll who kept the meetings with Wal-Mart under wraps, and who are already promoting it without public input. Local taxpayers don’t have to put up with this kind of domineering “planning” by city officials. The City should have announced that it had been approached by Wal-Mart, and given area residents an opportunity to comment on the plans before City staff start telling reporters their happy conclusions. These kind of under the table meetings back residents into a corner, and make further discussions more confrontational. The attitude by this city planner was that the Wal-Mart presented significant issues — but ones that were not unsolvable. The only problem is — area residents may not think it’s such a nice deal for their part of town, or their property values. Yet the staff person whose salary they pay, has already gone on record supporting the project. It looks like everyone is on board in Springfield — everyone but the residents.