Council agrees to look into overnight parking rules

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Opponents have been fighting to keep a proposed Walmart store off Southwest Dartmouth Street near 72nd Avenue for months. On Tuesday the Tigard City Council said it would look into some regulations for big box stores, though not enough to stop the retail giant from coming.The Tigard City Council won't be doing much to stop a proposed Walmart from coming to town, but it is making it harder for other businesses to use the same tactic.

The City Council took up the matter Tuesday, after residents stormed a Town Hall meeting in April, asking the city to look into the matter.

But anyone hoping for a plan to stop the company in its tracks was sorely disappointed.

Councilors shied away from regulations that could stop the proposed supercenter from being built off Southwest 72nd Avenue after city attorneys warned them against passing new regulations that target specific retailers.

The city does have broad authority to regulate the hours businesses can operate, charges fees based on sales and require minimum wages and employee benefits, which could affect Walmart’s plans for the area.

But those restrictions likely won’t happen, with city councilors saying the city needs to respect the free market and not impose unnecessary restrictions on businesses.

Councilors are exploring plans that could ban overnight parking in parking lots of big box stores, and the city will also look into changing the city code regarding the transfer of land-use approvals.

Many in Tigard didn’t realize Walmart was coming because of the way the company purchased the property.

After retail giant Target pulled its plans to build a store on the site, Walmart purchased the property — and Target’s approved plans — essentially giving it the go-ahead without having to go through the city.

The city is considering changing the city code, which would require new owners to go through the land-use process all over again.

“It would stop this from happening in the future,” said Councilor Jason Snider.

Weighing public concerns

While neighboring Sherwood has held meeting after meeting discussing possible regulations that could keep a proposed Walmart from coming to town, Tigard city officials have said for months that there was little they could effectively do to stop the world’s largest retailer from building in Tigard.

Snider, the council’s most vocal opponent of the store, said that finding effective regulations is difficult: Make the restrictions too broad and it could adversely affect businesses that have been in the city for decades, including Fred Meyer, Washington Square and Bridgeport Village. Make them too narrow, and the city would be left open to lawsuits for targeting businesses that it doesn’t like.

Snider said it was a matter of weighing public concerns with the rights of local businesses.

“It is concerning to me to do some of these more Draconian things without a broader community input process,” he said.

While the city may have the authority to regulate wages and benefits for all big-box retailers, Snider said the city can’t single out Walmart because residents don’t like its business practices.

“That’s not defensible, and it’s illegal,” he said.

Tigard Mayor John L. Cook said that businesses don’t need the government telling them what they should be doing.

“I don’t want the government telling me how long we can keep a business open,” said Cook, a certified public accountant. “I want to run my business and let free enterprise decide how I run against my competitor.”

Don't have the stomach

That message wasn’t what many Walmart opponents were hoping to hear.

“The city has the authority to do substantial regulations and rules to regulate big-box stores,” said Tigard resident Stephen Bintliff. “But they don’t seem to have the stomach to do any of it.”

Bintliff said he would have preferred more regulation against all big-box stores.

“How many big-box stores do we need?” he asked.

City Councilor Gretchen Buehner said that if residents really want to send a message to Walmart, they should say it with their pocketbooks.

“The biggest thing you can do is convincing your neighbors and friends not to shop there,” she said. “We have to treat all businesses the same way. Everybody has to live by the same rules. I don’t like that it’s coming, but because of what happened, there is nothing we can effectively do about it. I’m not happy, but that’s the way business is.”

The city will take up the matter again later this summer.

Construction is set to begin on the Tigard and Sherwood stores this month. The stores are expected to open sometime in 2014.

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