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News / Clark County News

Petitions oppose Walmart in Battle Ground

City officials say they cannot block project

By Tyler Graf
Published: October 28, 2012, 5:00pm

Less than two weeks after Wal-Mart Stores announced plans to develop a new store on a parcel of land at Scotton Way and Northeast 117th Avenue in Battle Ground, the backlash against the discount retail giant has begun.

Opponents of the Bentonville, Ark.-based company have begun circulating two online petitions, which they plan to present to the Battle Ground City Council. They say plans for a 154,000-square-foot Walmart store have been shrouded in secrecy and, once developed, a store would degrade the city’s hometown feel.

With opposition to the project gaining steam, city officials have reiterated that they didn’t know the developers of the property, CJ Dens Land Co. and T.J. Fontenette of Mill Creek Partnership, were finalizing a deal for a Walmart until the company issued a press release announcing its plans on Oct. 12. Now that they know, there’s nothing they can — or want — to do to reverse the deal.

“It would have been nice if they had told us,” said Battle Ground Mayor Lisa Walters. “All we could do was speculate about it.”

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She said city officials knew the land would be used for a big-box store, but didn’t know which one. Other tenants will include Panda Express and Carl’s Jr. restaurants.

Petitioners say they want Battle Ground to block the project, which is slated to break ground in May after road crews finish work on the $4.8 million Southwest Scotton Way improvement project.

Valerie Niemeyer, 20, a Clark College student, started one of the petitions. With 77 supporters, the petition argues that a Walmart is unnecessary in a city that already has four supermarkets.

And the city’s proximity to Vancouver, home to three Walmart stores, means people already have access to discount goods, she said.

“People move (to Battle Ground) knowing they can go to Vancouver for cheap televisions or something,” Niemeyer said.

Another petition filed by Battle Ground resident Stephanie Wright has 144 digital signatures.

Both petitions were uploaded to change.org, a for-profit website.

Fellow Clark College student Kymi Heney, 20, a supporter of the petitions and a Battle Ground resident, said she believes the city already has a sufficient number of big-box and independently owned stores. Another Walmart will continue to change the city’s small-town feel and shutter local businesses, she said.

“We have a lot of small businesses that would shut down,” Heney said, “especially in Battle Ground Village.”

Nancy Schultz, another critic of the project who lives near Daybreak Park, said the project came as a shock. She said citizens deserved more notice that a Walmart was on the way.

She moved to Battle Ground from California, where she said the public process is more inclusive and allows stakeholders more opportunities to comment on specific projects.

“Here, they just say, ‘Here it is folks,’ and you don’t have any say in it,” Schultz said.

But city officials say it’s too late for that.

Battle Ground Community Development Director Robert Maul said the city’s role was to work with developers, who were in charge of marketing the property. The city received no public comment from citizens during its planning process over the summer.

With a tenant in place, and the public process completed, the city can’t block the transaction, Maul said.

“You can’t appeal a project just because you don’t like it,” Maul said. “If you’re arbitrary and capricious in denying a project because you don’t like it, that’s illegal.”

City officials are confident that the Walmart will be good for Battle Ground and act as a catalyst for future development.

The store is expected to employ about 300 people.

Cami Joner of The Columbian contributed to this report. Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com.