For two years now, Wal-Mart has been inching forward plans to wedge a superstore between Sellwood and Milwaukie. That effort has enraged residents who believe the store will drain revenue from local businesses and devastate Milwaukie's plans to build a stronger town center.
Over the summer months, resistance seemed to be gathering momentum, gaining powerful allies from Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams and local labor unions. But last Thursday, the fight to hold back Wal-Mart suffered a setback when the State Land Use Board of Appeals ruled against the City of Milwaukie and in favor of Wal-Mart.
What happened is that during a 14-day "public comment" period the City of Milwaukie considered residents' opposition to the store. Then, after taking comments from the public—as well as rebuttals from Wal-Mart—the city went ahead and considered other issues, such as transportation problems the Wal-Mart would bring. Wal-Mart contested that the city violated "public testimony" by not allowing them an opportunity to refute the city's objections. Sadly, the Land Use Board agreed.
What the outcome means is that the city is not allowed to make any considerations to the pending Wal-Mart plan without a 14-day public testimony period. The insistence of a 14-day public comment period for any land-use consideration may sound like a good thing. But in reality, it provides more opportunities for Wal-Mart to lobby for their store and elongate the battle—and, the longer the battle, the better the odds are for Wal-Mart. Neighborhood groups, relying on volunteers and non-existent budgets, often grow tired of long battles. Wal-Mart has also proven in states like Vermont and cities like Chicago that they will gladly remain entrenched for years until they wear down opposition and overcome legal hurdles.
On Thursday, September 22, a neighborhood organization will screen a PBS Frontline video, Is Wal-Mart Good For America?, Moreland Theatre, 6712 SE Milwaukie Ave, 7:15 pm, $5