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Couple rallies to fight new Walmart

Tigard officials say store is on track for 18-acre site
by: Jaime Valdez, Husband and wife, Andrew Smith and Jennifer Jungenberg from Tigard, walk by the property where Walmart will be built along Dartmouth Street and 72nd Avenue.

A new Walmart Supercenter in Tigard set to open next year has drawn little public opposition since it was first announced in March.

It's a deafening silence compared to a few years ago, when a proposed Walmart in the area reached the attention of local legislators.

For Jen Jungenberg, that's unacceptable.

'Maybe it's because the economy is worse now, but people just don't seem as upset about it,' Jungenberg said. 'Or maybe they just don't know that they are going to start building.'

Jungenberg, 24, is one of a handful of people trying to stop the 137,900-square-foot Supercenter store from going in near Southwest 72nd Avenue and Dartmouth Street.

The Supercenter is expected to open next October, but Jungenberg and her husband Andrew Smith say they want to raise awareness and do what they can to stop the retail giant from making its way to Tigard.

Jungenberg's group, 'Stop Walmart in Tigard' has passed out fliers and signs to local businesses to hang in their windows.

'My goal is to stop them from coming,' she said.

But with plans approved by the city's Planning Commission, there's little that can be done to stop the giant retail center from being built, according to Tigard Community Development Director Ron Bunch.

'From a land-use perspective, the ship has sailed,' he said.

With only five members, the group is working to gain support and grow its ranks, but the numbers are small compared to a few years ago.

In 2006, a group known as 'Tigard First' rallied to stop a proposed 220,000-square-foot retail building from going in on the site.

Then Tigard state Rep. Larry Galizio and others believed the building was going to become a Walmart store that would force smaller stores in the area out of business, hurting the local economy.

That Walmart was never built. In its place, the city approved plans in 2009 for a 137,900-square-foot Target store on the property to little public outcry. That project included two smaller 12,000-square-foot retail buildings.

Target dropped out of the project in 2010. The land, and the approved plans for the buildings, were bought by Walmart this year.

Walmart plans to use Target's approved plans, which include more than 300 parking spaces on the 18-acre property.

Smith said he was surprised so few people have turned up to oppose the store.

'There isn't as much outcry as there was awhile ago,' he said. 'But when you look at the consequences of other Walmarts, it's silly that more people aren't against this.'

Rachel Wall, Walmart's senior manager of community affairs, said that overall, the response to the proposed Tigard store has been 'overwhelmingly positive.'

'As we have seen at the recent grand openings of the West Linn and Beaverton stores, Tigard residents are eager to bring a full-service Walmart and the everyday low prices closer to home,' she said.

'I was at the grand opening of the West Linn store a few days ago, and the first customer was a man from Tigard who was really excited about the store,' she said. 'Community feedback thus far has been very supportive.'

'Try to get people aware'

Jungenberg and Smith are worried about similar issues as the Tigard First group, namely the store's impact on the local economy and the safety of a wetland that runs along one side of the property.

'Tigard has big stores in it, but there are a lot of small businesses here too,' she said. 'It would be really sad to see a drastic change in the economy and the way it is around here.'

A former Forest Grove resident, Jungenberg saw a similarly sized Walmart open in Cornelius in 2010, and said she saw local businesses suffer.

'Within a month, three of our favorite businesses shut down. I don't want that to happen here,' she said.

The situation is a bit different in Tigard, Jungenberg admits, with several big-box stores in the area including Costco, WinCo Foods and Petsmart circling the property. But Jungenberg said she is worried about smaller stores, such as Spanish-language markets, which may not be able to compete with such a powerful competitor.

Jungenberg hangs on to hope that something can be done to stop the store from coming. However, if her grassroots effort fails, she said she wants to work with the city and local environmental groups to maintain the area's environmental integrity and continue to tell people to shop at local stores.

'At least we can try to get people aware of the fact they can still support other business,' Smith said. 'And then hope that the same thing doesn't happen here that happened in Cornelius.'