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2006-08-17
Chelan, WA. City Officials Collude In Wal-Mart Bait-And-Switch

This is the story of a very large bait-and-switch tactic that exchanged apple blossoms for a supercenter. Sprawl-Busters has received the following update on citizen activities in Chelan, Washington to use legal means to prevent a Wal-Mart supercenter from opening: "The Defenders of Small Town Chelan have filed their initial brief in a case against the City of Chelan seeking to invalidate the building permit granted to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has ignored the action and has gone ahead to build the 168,000 sq foot building in a zone that was approved for buildings up to 50,000 square feet in size." According to the brief, which was recently filed in Chelan County Superior Court, the city approved this megastore "without public hearings, (and) without an opportunity to bring an administrative appeal." The 23-page opening brief charges that in the year 2000, a developer agreed to a binding site plan that called for lot sizes up to 5 acres, and buildings that would "vary in size up to 50,000 s.f." The Wal-Mart store that emerged as part of this project nearly four years later, does not fit into the rules for the binding site plan that existed for the so-called Apple Blossom Center The project site was originally zoned warehouse/industrial, but the city rezoned it "planned development district/PDD" to allow more flexibility to the developer. The city's Comprehensive Plan said that the community wanted to target "high salary jobs for recruitment", and businesses that were "compatible with the existing economic base." The citizen's group charges that a Wal-Mart supercenter was incompatible with the Chelan comprehensive plan, yet the city asserted the opposite without any explanation or research. The complaint notes that the city never discussed the size of the expected lots within the PDD, or the size of the potential buildings. A "development agreement" was signed with the project sponsor in 2002, in which the developer agreed that development of the project would be consistent with the 2000 binding site plan limiting the size of buildings. Two years later, the brief says, "the bombshell dropped." It was revealed that Wal-Mart owned property within the proposed Apple Blossom Center, and was seeking a building permit for a 162,000 s.f. store, with an 809 car parking lot. The 18 acre Wal-Mart site was far larger than the 5 acre limit, and was more than three times beyond the 50,000 sf. limit on store size found in the binding site plan. The developer of the Wal-Mart parcel was a different developer as well. The city gave the new developer and Wal-Mart a green light to begin work on the project, stating that under the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA), this huge store was a "Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance", which means it would not have "a probable significant adverse impact on the environment." This decision was not open to public comment. The citizens also obtained a copy of an email memo written by Wal-Mart to the city planner "suggesting how to structure the permitting process to minimize or eliminate public notice and appeals by citizens." This memo, mysteriously, was not included as part of the city's official record in the case. But the city essentially followed the instructions issued by Wal-Mart's lawyer. In May of 2006, the city gave Wal-Mart a building permit for its 162,000 s.f store, without notifying the public. The Defenders of Small Town Chelan charge the city's process was unlawful, failed to follow the prescribed process, was unsupported by evidence, and erronenously applied its own regulations. The Wal-Mart is inconsistent with the original developer's agreement, and was never a part of the PDD plan, and is inconsistent with the guide set out in the city's comprehensive plan, which should have governed the type and intensity of land use. The city never reviewed or documented consistency with the comp plan, and thus violated state law. "The citizens of Chelan have no assurance that the project will encourage 'high salary jobs' and be compatible with existing businesses," the brief concludes, "the city's failure to follow prescribed environmental review procedures has create a cloud of economic uncertainty in Chelan, where existing home-grown businesses will have to compete with a megastore."

What you can do: If its possible to secretly slip in a 162,000 s.f. superstore, that's what happened in Chelan. Behind the scenes, Wal-Mart's attorney was directing city officials. On the surface, all the residents knew was that store sizes on the parcel were limited, and that lot size was limited. But the developers, with the collusion of city officials, duped the homeowners nearby, who are now fighting for the value of their own largest investment, and trying to protect the character of their small town. The Chelan citizen's brief can be found at http://www.lcvca.org/files/documents/Opening_Brief.pdf . A hearing is scheduled for October 2, 2006. More information is at www.lcvca.org. For local contacts, email info@sprawl-busters










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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