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Petition asks city leaders to stop construction, but city officials say hands are tied

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Noreen Bibbons, Jim Long, Ruth Crichton, and Karen Crichton protest at the proposed site of a new Walmart on 72nd and Dartmouth in Tigard. The group is part of a growing opposition to the Walmart, which is set to break ground as early as this month.Love it, or hate it, Walmart is moving into Tigard.

That’s the message from city officials this week after residents and community members came out in opposition to the world’s largest retailer, which is slated to begin construction on a new store off Southwest 72nd Avenue as early as this month.

For more than a year, Walmart has planned to build a new supercenter on Southwest Dartmouth Street, nestling itself in among fellow big box giants such as Costco, WinCo Foods, Petsmart, Babies R Us, Office Max and Fred Meyer, which are all located within a block of the proposed store.

For much of that time opposition has been practically non-existent.

That is, until about a month ago.

Public opposition for the project has erupted over the past few weeks after Walmart officials sent a letter to residents and businesses outlining its timeline for opening and the type of construction residents can expect during the next year.

After that, picketers were seen on the proposed site and various groups, including Occupy Portland, have said they would like to see Walmart pack up its belongings.

Tigard resident Steven Shafer, who lives near the location, has filed a petition with more than 350 signatures with the city, asking the council to stop the store from moving into the neighborhood.

Want to review Steven Schafer’s petition?

It's available online here

Too little, too late?

Schafer has been circulating a petition online for the past year, but it failed to gain more than two dozen signatures for most of that time, he said.

“We had maybe 15 signatures — total,” Schafer said.

Then starting in April, the petition picked up momentum, as hundreds signed on in opposition to Walmart.

More people are signing every day, Schafer said.

Despite the growing opposition, city officials say the public outcry is too little, too late.

“It is too late to do anything,” said Tigard transportation planner Judith Gray at a city town hall meeting Tuesday night.

“What they do is legal,” Gray added. “They are a legal business. Whether or not you share their values, it is a legal business.”

The city’s hands are tied, said the city’s Assistant City Manager Liz Newton. Cities can’t pick and choose which businesses it allows in.

“We’re not in the business of deciding which businesses can come or not, whether it’s Walmart, IKEA or Target, as long as they build to the approvals and have a legitimate approval,” she said.

The land was zoned for this type of business venture, Newton said. Any business that fits the criteria is welcome to build on the property.

“If we are building a restaurant pad, we can’t debate whether it should be a Burgerville or a Burger King,” she said. “We can’t get into that debate if it meets the requirements.”

‘Everything is up for negotiation’

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Opponents admit that stopping the Walmart is an uphill battle, but say they want to voice their concerns about the store and hopefully stop customers from shopping at the store if it is built.Schafer admitted its unlikely that his petition will succeed in stopping Walmart, but that won’t stop him from trying, he said.

“It’s not an uphill climb — it’s practically vertical,” he said with a laugh.

“I am a firm believer that nothing is done until the doors open.

“This could all be for nothing, but until the doors open and they put up that ‘grand opening’ sign, everything is up for negotiation.”

That reaction was met with plenty of support at Tuesday’s town hall, including comments from City Councilor Jason Snider who said he had heard similar complaints about Walmart from community members.

Snider said he would like to review the plans for the site and see if there is anything that could be done on the city’s part to block its progress.

“Given what we are hearing in the community, I think we need to be responsive to that and at least explore all the options,” he said.

With construction set to start soon, Snider said stopping Walmart from coming is likely a losing battle, but there might be other options that the city could take.

“Maybe we can’t absolutely prevent the development, but maybe we have options that would make it more challenging for them to do business,” he said. “But that might affect other businesses, so that would be something we have to consider.”

There is some precedent to stopping Walmart from coming to the area in the past.

In 2006, the city of Beaverton hit the brakes on a planned Walmart in Cedar Mill, saying the area was zoned for “transit-oriented development.” City officials said the proposed superstore was the wrong fit for the neighborhood and would likely snarl traffic in an already congested area near Providence St. Vincent Medical Center.

It didn’t keep the company out of city limits for long. Walmart currently operates smaller Walmart Neighborhood Markets on Southwest Cornell Road, which opened in 2012, and Southwest Apple Way in Raleigh Hills, which opened in January. It plans to open a third market on Southwest Murray Boulevard in the Sexton Mountain neighborhood.

In Tigard, a grassroots effort known as Tigard First rallied in 2007, after rumors that Walmart was planning on building a store on the same land it plans to build on this spring.

Those plans never materialized, Schafer said, and many residents thought they had won.

“It was only when those letters started coming out that I think most people realized that this was round two,” Schafer said.

When asked if Walmart planned to hold any community meetings to answer questions from the community, a Walmart spokesperson speaking on background said those were unlikely.

The company will, however, hold a meeting introducing the community to the contractor in charge of the roadwork and construction sometime before work begins.

"We look forward to serving Tigard area residents and we will work closely with the city to keep the community apprised of construction process to help ensure they are aware of the timeline for the infrastructure improvements," the company said in a statement. "We continue to receive community support for both the hundreds of new jobs the store will create and the improved access to affordable merchandise and grocery products.

"Our customers recognize that we have made efforts in recent years to be an even better company by leading on issues that are important to them like job opportunity, sustainability, hunger and nutrition. It's clear that the more people get to know the facts about us, the more they see the value in bringing a Walmart store to their community. We encourage residents to visit and sign-up for our newsletters to learn more about the planned Tigard store, and our company."

In the end, the success or failure of Walmart in Tigard relies on customers, said Mayor John L. Cook.

“You are going to vote by your pocket book,” he said. “If you don’t like it, don’t go there.”

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