Wal-Mart’s founder was very clear that if a community did not want a Wal-Mart for whatever reason, he did not want his company to go in and create a fuss. Sam Walton said in his autobiography he would rather walk away from that kind of situation. Today, the Wal-Mart Board of Directors pays no heed to Mr. Sam’s advice. Take Gresham, Oregon as the latest case in point. The retailer has announced that it is suing city officials. Here’s the story as told by the citizen’s group Gresham First: “Today Wal-Mart filed an appeal of the City Planner’s decision to deny a permit application for the proposed site at 182nd & Powell. Type II appeals are heard by a Hearings Officer, and the local process must be completed no later than October 29, 2005. Further appeal would be brought before the State Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA).While it is disappointing that the hard work by the City Planner in preparing a decision is not acknowledged by Wal-Mart, we have reviewed their development history and have been preparing for the appeal. Various concerns exist regarding the suitability of this site, and we are confident that the Hearings officer will uphold the initial ruling. The current proposal has raised concerns regarding the health and well being of our region’s economy, workers and community livability. Unfortunately, these factors are not currently protected by our City Planning and Development code. Gresham First recommends the development of zoning regulations that would require retail projects over a certain size to undergo an independent economic impact review, to help make informed decisions about our future with objective information on the potential costs of large scale retail developments, without using an outright ban. Many communities are adopting land-use policies that restrict the growth of predatory business, support downtown revitalization and create an environment where locally owned business can thrive. Applicants who demonstrate they will provide an economic benefit to our community should be allowed to build.”
To see a sample letter to the Mayor and City Council of Gresham, or for local contacts, go to www.greshamfirst.org. Wal-Mart is going to have to demonstrate that the city’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. Cities have broad discretionary police powers to interpret their own land use regulations, and the courts are reluctant to substitute their judgment for that of local officials. Prediction: the Hearing Officer will uphold the city, and Wal-Mart will appeal to the Land Use Board of Appeals, and become a triple loser in Gresham. This is what happened in Hood River, Oregon. Wal-Mart wasted more than a year in court, and forced local taxpayers to waste their money because Wal-Mart does not lose gracefully.