Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, September 29, 2006

"Pullman plans for Supercenter"

This is a story in today's University of Idaho Argonaut:
After a failed attempt to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Moscow and appeals on a site in Pullman, it appears the retail giant will finally leave its one-stop-shopping mark on the Palouse.

City hearing examiner John Montgomery has approved the Wal-Mart Supercenter, which is planned for 28 acres off Bishop Boulevard in Pullman, according to a press release sent out Wednesday. The decision denied site plan appeals made by the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development.

“We are very pleased that Mr. Montgomery again reached a fair and factual decision regarding the Wal-Mart Supercenter projects,” said Tom Forbes, co-founder of Businesses & Residents for Economic Opportunity.
“Mr. Montgomery’s decision is pretty much what we expected in terms of its conclusions,” stated T.V. Reed, spokesman for the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development, in a press release from PARD. “It is very rare for a hearing examiner to have the courage to strongly reverse himself in a remand.”

Reed said in his statement that he was disturbed that the ruling was filed late and was “so full of basic errors that the Pullman city attorney has asked Montgomery to make corrections and issue yet another revision,” which may lead to further delays in the next appeals hearing.

The Wal-Mart proposal in Pullman has had an easier road to travel than the one in Moscow from the very beginning, Forbes said. The proposed Moscow Supercenter required the rezoning of 77 acres of farmland, as well as overcoming the emergency “big-box” ordinance, an ordinance intended to keep Wal-Mart and other large chain retailers out of the community enacted by the City Council in August 2005. After almost a year of attempting to get a Moscow store approved, the city council denied the rezone request of the land last May.

“Given the current make-up of the Moscow City Council, it became obvious to Wal-Mart that they did not stand a chance of passing through all these hurdles, and it was at that time that they cancelled plans for a Moscow Supercenter,” Forbes said in an e-mail.

The site in Pullman, located across the street from Safeway on Bishop Boulevard, has been zoned for large-scale commercial retailers for 25 years, Forbes said. Wal-Mart did not have to rely on a city council vote to build on the site. The plan to construct a Supercenter in Pullman was announced to the public in October 2004, Forbes said.
Montgomery stated in his decision to approve the store that the project is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan, which discusses how Moscow has captured most of the retail trade in the Palouse.

“Pullman desires a better balance of shopping and entertainment opportunities. The proposed project would bring desired retail to the city of Pullman and help balance the retail trade currently existing in Moscow.”
“Mr. Montgomery has failed to connect evidence to case law to conclusions,” said PARD member and lawyer Judith Krueger. “He has added more evidence, from both PARD and Wal-Mart perspectives, but then just seems to arbitrarily decide he likes some pieces of evidence more than others. The job of the hearing examiner is to connect the dots between evidence, law and conclusion. Mr. Montgomery once again has not done so. He simply chooses to side with Wal-Mart on most issues even when he cites evidence of their inconsistencies or notes that they admit to ‘cannibalistic’ practices in their business dealings.”

The next step in the process is for Judge David Frazier, who asked Montgomery to expand on his original decision to approve Wal-Mart, to hear PARD’s appeal of the decision. The hearing will be at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 18 in Whitman County Superior Court in Colfax.

PARD’s Web site states, “PARD has found massive evidence that the proposed store would be a threat to the local environment, local businesses, local workers, the Bishop Place retirement/assisted living community, Pullman Regional Hospital and the city cemetery. This raises vital concerns about public safety, health, financial stability and community values.”

“We have every reason to believe that Judge Frazier will uphold Mr. Montgomery’s revised decision and that Pullman and Whitman County can soon begin to recapture the serious sales leakages to neighboring communities,” Forbes said in the press release.

“PARD trusts that Judge Frazier — who, unlike Mr. Montgomery, lives in Whitman County — will come to different, more sensible conclusions about issues of safety and impact upon the citizens of Pullman,” Christopher Lupke, media coordinator for PARD, stated in the press release.

The release also noted a recent study by University of Idaho economist Steve
Peterson for the Moscow Chamber of Commerce showed that Pullman and Whitman County are experiencing “retail sales leakages of $158.4 million in 2005 to Moscow and Latah County.”

Peterson’s study analyzed the impact of Wal-Mart on communities and also debunked some myths about Wal-Mart’s pay scale and health benefits.
According to the study, Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer, grocery chain and employer in the United States, with 1.3 million employees. In 2006 the retail giant had $316 billion in sales revenue.

The study also stated, “Contrary to popular opinion, Wal-Mart’s wages are competitive nationally. Wal-Mart’s U.S. average annual wage of $21,029 is competitive in the retail trade industry.” The Moscow Wal-Mart has an average wage of $22,006 a year, more than the local supermarket average of $19,040, the study said. The average wage at the Moscow store is more than the general merchandise wage in all 50 states. The study said the starting wage at the store is $7.50 an hour with an average rage of $10.58.

Peterson also said in the study that 75 percent of the Moscow store’s employees are covered with health benefits.
“Both the leadership and citizens of Pullman desire more of an economic balance with their neighbor to the east,” Forbes said. “A Wal-Mart Supercenter would represent a step in that direction.”

Once the appeals process is over, Forbes said it will take approximately 10 months for Wal-Mart to build the store once ground is broken. He said Pullman officials are ready to issue a building permit and the store would hope to open before Christmas 2007.

Forbes said the new store may impact the existing Wal-Mart in Moscow and will have a significant effect on Moscow grocery stores as Washington does not have sales tax on food, resulting in lower prices. Wal-Mart has announced no plans to close the store in Moscow, Forbes said, stating that it considers Moscow and Pullman to be two distinct markets.
That is one of the better articles I have read lately. Savannah Cummings did a great job. The whole Pullman-Moscow Wal-Mart saga has lasted so long, and taken so many twists and turns, it's like trying to explain the succession of the Merovingian dynasty to reporters who have not been here from the beginning.

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