An estimated 6,500 Ravalli County citizens signed a referendum petition that could suspend a recent interim zoning ordinance that caps retail store size to 60,000 square feet.I love it. The anti-Wal-Marters proclaim the "public has spoken," except of course for those 6,500 lunatics in favor of Wal-Mart. You have to ignore them. And the local liberal newspaper, no doubt against Wal-Mart, scored a better own goal with their coverage than Paraguay did against England.
Citizens for Economic Opportunity turned the petition into the Ravalli County Clerk and Recorder Nedra Taylor Monday just 60 days after county commissioners adopted the zoning ordinance and 12 days after officials OK'd the petition. If 4,327 signatures are verified as those of registered voters, the ordinance will be suspended until voters have a chance to decide in November.
The citizens group had 60 days to gather signatures of 15 percent of county voters to suspend the ordinance and place it on the ballot, or until Aug. 28 to gather enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot.
Dallas Erickson, president of CEO and no newcomer to petitions said he had his doubts whether the organization could amass enough signatures in such a short period of time.
“We were aided immensely when local news stories tied the success of the petition with the likely construction of a Wal-Mart in Ravalli County,” Erickson said. “The national retailer Wal-Mart joined other businesses and citizens in the effort, helping with printing and mailing costs.”
Erickson said it was the quickest referendum qualification he has heard of in Montana, but the group collected 6,500 signatures within 12 days with the help of Wal-Mart endorsing the group's petition rally.
“They did ask for Wal-Mart's help and we were quick to help the CEO,” Wal-Mart Senior Manager for Public Affairs Gray McGinnis said Tuesday. “It is amazing to me how quickly this group gathered signatures. It is preliminary at this point, but if 7,000 resident signatures can be gathered in 10 days, we at Wal-Mart feel the zoning was opposed to the county residents' opinion,” McGinnis said. “In the end we look forward to working with Ravalli County to provide a product that is best for the consumers - we have our supplier, our customers and our community that we are part of.”
The Bitterroot Good Neighbors Coalition, the group that worked on the interim zoning ordinance and came up with the 60,000-square-foot size cap, believes the public has spoken and county commissioners have taken action.
Coalition officials asked Taylor if signatures of voters within municipalities count toward the qualifying amount since the ordinance applies in the county, not inside city limits. They also questioned the public scrutiny of the verification process and review of the final tally.
Taylor forwarded inquiries to Ravalli County Attorney George Corn and didn't know how long it would take to verify the petition signatures.
CEO first submitted a petition to the clerk and recorder's office on April 25, and it was returned with suggested changes. It then turned in a second petition on May 17 and received it back on June 1.
“We are thankful that our county commissioners are working on planning and zoning guidelines in Ravalli County, but they have created a dangerous and damaging precedent by including an arbitrary limit on retail growth,” the citizens group said in a press release. “We believe that the vast majority of county residents are opposed to this broadside against free enterprise and economic opportunity, and if the commissioners won't do what's right, we expect voters will in November.”
It took PARD over a year to gather 10,000 signatures, almost half of which were from outside of Pullman and Whitman County. It's the same story in Hamilton, MT as it is Pullman, WA: VOCAL MINORITY.
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