Wal-Mart is finally realizing that you don’t have to promote huge stores to make big profits. On December 3, 2006, Sprawl-Busters updated the story of residents in Pullman, Washington, who were engaged in a marathon legal battle to block a Wal-Mart supercenter in their community. In March of 2006, residents lost an appeal of a city ruling in favor of Wal-Mart before a Hearing Examiner, and took their appeal to Whitman County Superior Court. That court appeal went in Wal-Mart’s favor as well, but the battle continued. At the end of 2006, The Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development (PARD) announced that it was taking its case against the proposed Pullman Wal-Mart to the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Spokane. PARD legal liaison T.V. Reed stated that “while the appeal will be costly, we have had great support from thousands of folks in the community, and currently have a new membership drive under way. PARD will continue to make the case that a huge supercenter on Bishop Boulevard would drastically impede access to the hospital, be dangerous for pedestrians, and negatively impact the local economy.” PARD argued that the information regarding the traffic impact was inadequate. The State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) states that any determination of non-significance must be based on adequate information. Second, both the SEPA and the Site Plan require that it be clearly determined that the Wal-Mart Supercenter would not have a negative fiscal impact on the city causing blight. PARD’s appeal argued that the determination made was based on insufficient data as well. In his November, 2006 ruling, Judge David Frazier praised PARD’s thorough research and substantial evidence about traffic dangers and the lack of an independent analysis of the impact of the supercenter on the local economy. Christopher Lupke, the group’s media coordinator, said, “PARD members feel strongly that at each level of appeal we have raised awareness of the dangers of the project, and that we owe it to our thousands of supporters to continue our work to stop the project or make it safer.” “Our lawyer has devised a new legal strategy for this next level of appeal, and we are confident that we will win if the evidence is weighed carefully,” Reed added. PARD member Alex Hammond remarked that it “is important to realize that nothing PARD has done puts Wal-Mart under an injunction. They could have started building months ago. That they haven’t started suggests that they have understood all along that we have a strong case.” Reed added that in his ruling Judge Frazier emphasized that “‘zoning laws always trump comprehensive plans.’ What that means for Pullman is that all the lovely sentiments in our city Comprehensive Plan are meaningless unless we enact zoning laws that actually support responsible, environmentally and economically sustainable development. Wal-Mart is just one part of a much larger problem.” On June 26, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that PARD was abandoning its legal battle to block Wal-Mart. PARD Board Member Cynthia Hosick said group members voted via e-mail whether to take their case to the Washington State Supreme Court. “I think the decision to stop is reasonable, because … I think it probably wouldn’t go too much farther,” Hosick told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News. Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson indicated his pleasure that the store was now moving forward. In his gracious way, he said PARD’s fight against the super center had delayed development of other stores in Pullman, as well as the collection of sales tax and the addition of several traffic lights Wal-Mart will pay to have installed on Bishop Boulevard. “From a city standpoint, this is a very good thing,” the Mayor said about PARD’s decision to give the legal battle. But now, one year later, the Spokesman-Review newspaper reports that Wal-Mart on its own is revising its plan by lopping off 68,000 s.f from its Pullman store. Although the retailer has a green light to build a 223,000 s.f. store, Wal-Mart is shrinking the store by roughly 30%, down to 155,000 s.f. The company told the newspaper that its decision to build a smaller footprint was not dictated by the faltering economy, but by “technological advances” that allow a smaller store to provide comparable service. Wal-Mart described the smaller store as more “sustainable” in a news release, claiming the change will reduce traffic at nearby intersections and paved parking space by roughly a third. “We are committed to providing the Pullman community with a store design that addresses our commitment to sustainability while continuing to deliver on our promise to help people save money and live better,” Wal-Mart said in their press release.
Whenever zoning cases result in a controversial win/lose scenario, they are never good. And when a Mayor attacks his own taxpayers, that’s not good either. This battle began in October of 2004. PARD was fighting not only Wal-Mart, but city officials as well, who said the huge project would not have an impact on the environment. PARD asserted that the store would adversely affect stormwater run-off, traffic and the local economy. PARD presented its case to a hearing examiner in Pullman, who supported the city’s decision, and then to Whitman County Superior Court, which also ruled against the citizens. PARD then went to the Division III Court of Appeals, which took five months to make its decision — again in support of the city. PARD said a traffic report done by the city showed clearly that millions dollars of upgraded infrastructure will be needed as a result of this superstore plan. Unfortunately, PARD says, this traffic report was not released until March of 2008, effectively too late to use in its court filings. “We weren’t able to have the traffic study be part of the appeal and that’s a biggie. I think without that an appeal would be very iffy,” she said. A Wal-Mart spokesman told the Daily News that the retailer was ready to begin site work even if PARD had chosen to continue its legal appeal. “It’s probably a wise decision on their part,” the Wal-Mart spokesman said. “The chance of being heard by the Supreme Court is slim. But we had decided to move forward whether they did (appeal) or not.” Readers are urged to email Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson at http://www.pullman-wa.gov/DrawContact.aspx?ContactName=Mayor%20and%20Council with the following message: “Dear Mayor Johnson, It is excellent news that Wal-Mart is going to shrink its store by 30%, and that they consider a smaller store more ‘sustainable.’ It’s too bad it took 5 years for them to reach that conclusion. The City Council might now want to ask the retailer why 155,000 s.f.? Why not shrink their plans to 100,000 s.f. ? They have a superstore prototype that fits that size footprint. The Pullman City Council is now in a position to ask Wal-Mart to go lower. The company has admitted that a smaller store can generate as much profit, and is more sustainable. All along PARD has been right about this project: its impacts could be reduced if its scale could be reduced. 155,000 s.f. is still too large for the community and the site. But it is up to the City Council to question why Wal-Mart stopped at 155,000 s.f. Take the lead back from Wal-Mart, and give your residents a project that is more compatible with your comprehensive plan, and fits better into the character of Pullman. This chance won’t come again.” Zoning decisions do not have to be a win/lose situation. When people believe they are on the losing end of a deal — they are usually right. Pullman was not prepared for a project of this scale. It’s time to make developers fit Pullman, rather than the reverse.”