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Tigard considers rules for big-box stores

New Walmart sparks debate on overnight camping


by: JAIME VALDEZ - The Walmart site, located on Dartmouth Street near 72nd Avenue, has sparked an outcry from residents for months. The city is now considering regulations for future big box retailers to keep the incident from happening again.The Tigard City Council is considering imposing additional regulations on big-box retailers in response to citizen reaction after a Walmart began construction on Southwest Dartmouth Street earlier this year.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, councilors discussed the possibility of imposing a variety of new rules against big-box stores, including banning overnight parking and requiring tenants to prove they provide a positive impact on the community.

The regulations are in the early stages of development, but it is the first concrete step the city has taken in regulating big-box businesses since Walmart was announced in 2012.

Previously, city officials said they should respect the free market and not impose unnecessary restrictions on businesses, although the council has broad authority to regulate business hours, minimum wages and employee benefits for companies inside the city.

The discussion comes after residents complained they had no say in whether or not Walmart should break ground on a 137,900-square-foot store off 72nd Avenue and Dartmouth Street, which is slated to open in 2014.

Neighbors said they had no warning the store was coming and criticized the city for allowing the store to be built without public input.

Councilor Jason Snider has suggested requiring new big-box stores to meet a standard of proving they provide a “positive impact to the community” before they can be approved.

“That’s what the community really wanted is to say whether or not this store provides a net benefit to the community at large,” Snider said. “We can’t make a criteria specific to one specific business, but if every big-box development on a go-forward basis had that as a criteria, and there is a more open and public input process, that may address many of the concerns.”

Snider has been the most vocal on the council about wanting to regulate big-box stores, saying he would like to address issues of minimum wage, benefits and other issues, though he failed to gain traction for those ideas from the majority of the council.

“I am enthusiastic about moving forward with this type of prohibition,” he said.

Whatever happens, Councilor Gretchen Buehner said residents should have a chance to know what tenant is coming before it is built.

“My concern that I have been hearing from citizens is that they want an opportunity to be heard,” she sad.

The city is also considering banning overnight parking in big-box locations, something Walmart stores are known for allowing.

The ban would be to stamp out incidents of theft and nuisance complaints, but Tigard Police Chief Alan Orr discouraged the idea, saying there was little evidence to support such a regulation.

Orr spoke with police chiefs in cities that allow overnight parking in big-box stores and told the council on Tuesday that incidents that stem from the practice are rare.

“There are very little to no problems to parking at night,” he said. “(The stores) do it as a service to a community, and (police chiefs I spoke with) say they had very little problems with theft.”

In fact, banning overnight parking in big-box stores would likely move the problem to other parts of town, he said, including to smaller businesses that are located closer to residential areas.

“If you are trying to deal with that issue, that would be counterintuitive to that,” he said. “If you were to regulate parking on big-lot stores, I hate to say it, but you would have to do it for everyone and force even smaller stores that are closer to residential areas to comply as well. It would defeat the purpose of the ordinance.”

The council is set to take up the issue again next year.