Last month, when the Beaverton, Oregon City Council voted unanimously to reject a proposed 152,300 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter, the company’s representatives immediately threatened a lawsuit. “The bottom line is that this is a politically motivated decision,” a Wal-Mart spokesman told the Oregonian newspaper. “I feel they clearly overlooked the work of the past two years.” But the giant retailer backed away from that brash statement this week, and announced to the city that they would not, in fact, challenge their defeat in Beaverton. “After careful review,” the corporation said in a press release on September 7th, “Wal-Mart has decided not to appeal the City of Beaverton’s decision to reject our application for a store at Barnes and Cedar Hills. We’re proud of the store we proposed for the community, which would have greatly improved the area’s shopping options, provided quality new jobs and increased tax revenue to the community.” The company said that it had a legal right appeal, but admitted, “we have taken into consideration the City Council’s decision and findings, and recognize that the City Council clearly does not believe this is the right site for us in Beaverton.” In fact, one city councilor said the Wal-Mart project was “like putting a linebacker in a beautiful evening gown.” The land Wal-Mart coveted had a transit-oriented classification, and city officials said a huge big box store did not meet their transit goals for the area. The City Council argued that it also would create a dangerous intersection and traffic problems for future residential growth in the Cedar Mill areas. “The consequences of getting something with this size and impact at this intersection is more than I can support,” one councilor noted. Although declining an appeal, Wal-Mart was clear that it is not withdrawing from the Beaverton area. “Wal-Mart wants to be a part of the Beaverton community,” the company wrote. “Wal-Mart remains committed to better serving its loyal Beaverton customers and we will take the lessons we have learned from this site proposal and work to improve upon them. Our obligation and our commitment to our customers is to find a site that works for them as well as for the city.” The company said it looked forward to working on a new site proposal.
It doesn’t look like Wal-Mart has learned any lessons from the Battle of Beaverton. Wal-Mart just spent two years fighting local residents instead of cooperating with them, and as a result has lost at least $150 million in sales at that location. Instead, they received an ample share of negative headlines, plus a citizens group dedicated to stopping them. In their press statement, Wal-Mart confessed the real reason for pulling out of this project: “The City Council clearly has a different idea about how this particular site should be developed and a long protracted legal battle is not in anyone’s best interests.” In other words, full litigation would cost the retailer several hundred thousand dollars in legal fees, and they could wind up with nothing to show but invoices from its lawyers, because the city’s actions were rooted in valid zoning concerns, and neither arbitrary nor capricious. As Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake explained, “This is the wrong store for this location.” The citizens’ group that fought this project from the start, Save Cedar Mill, was like a dog on a bone. When city staff approved Wal-Mart’s plan, they never retreated, or succumbed to the “done deal” syndrome. This is Wal-Mart second loss in Beaverton, the first one dating back to 1995-6. Last month, after the City Council rejected Wal-Mart, Save Cedar Mill Chair Steve Kaufman said, “All of the arguments that we so carefully put forth over the past eighteen months — choking traffic, a pedestrian-unfriendly design, conflict with the transit-oriented zoning, the excessive use of the remaining traffic capacity — were cited in their comments. With every word, our hard work and efforts were validated, convincing us that we were on message with the letters, emails, and public testimony that we offered.” The citizen group’s lawyer added, “What one does learn is if citizens are focused, diligent and work very hard — and pay close attention to the actual approval criteria — they (can) be successful even against a megalith.” For more local flavor, go to www.savecedarmill.org. For an earlier story, search Newsflash by “Beaverton.”