Stanwood faces a fight

STANWOOD – Folks who don’t want a giant Wal-Mart store plopped down on vacant land in Stanwood have started to fight for the heart of their city.

Dan Bates / The Herald

Wal-Mart opponents Janine Dibble (left) and Rosanne Cohn picket Tuesday at the intersection where a store is proposed in Stanwood.

On Tuesday morning, they started picketing. They say they’ve gathered 1,000 signatures from those who don’t want any big-box retailers in town. And they’ve started a letter-writing campaign and paid for anti-Wal-Mart newspaper ads.

“The biggest concern with a very large entity is that it puts existing businesses out of business,” said Rosanne Cohn, spokeswoman for Design Stanwood, a downtown revitalization project.

The city is exploring whether to rezone a 23-acre lot at Highway 532 and 72nd Avenue NW. Bringing in a big-box retailer such as Wal-Mart would generate sales taxes that could pay for city services.

That’s a key selling point, said City Councilwoman Dianne White. The city is struggling to meet increasing demands for police, firefighters and new streets. New tax revenues would help.

“We’re hurting for money,” White said. “We have to look at that.”

White has not made up her mind, though.

“I’m open to hearing all the facts,” she said. “The facts I’ve been receiving so far have probably been 90 percent against Wal-Mart.”

Wal-Mart spokesman Eric Berger said the company is considering Stanwood but has no specific plans to build there.

If a plan develops, Wal-Mart would try to educate people about the benefits a store would bring, he said.

“We bring in customers to their area” who would otherwise shop elsewhere, Berger said. “Generally, our stores generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue.”

A step toward clearing the way for Wal-Mart or any major retailer would require the City Council to rezone the land, which currently is designated for residential use.

The council on Thursday will consider paying a Kirkland consultant to study the economic impact a big-box retailer would have in Stanwood. The consultant, Huckell/Weinman Associates, would be paid $12,200 for the study. It would take four weeks.

After that, the city’s planning commission would hold a public hearing, and the council might follow up with its own hearings.

White said she expects the council to go ahead with the economic impact study. Beyond that, it’s too early to tell which way the council might be leaning, she said.

Opponents have been digging into studies about Wal-Mart.

“Some of the research we’ve done shows that the dollars (from Wal-Mart) don’t stay in the community,” said David Pelletier, an architect active with Design Stanwood. “The jobs are minimum wage. It’s all in contradiction to protecting the economic welfare of local people.”

The fuss started with a letter last fall from Arlington developer Brent McKinley asking the Stanwood City Council to allow commercial use of the 23 acres between Stanwood High School and Church Creek. Wal-Mart was interested in putting a store on the land, he wrote.

News this week that Wal-Mart will open a superstore less than 10 miles away in Smokey Point left some people wondering if Stanwood was out of the picture.

It’s not. The close proximity is not necessarily a problem, Berger said

Even if Wal-Mart opts out of Stanwood, opponents will stay active, Pelletier said, because he believes other big-box retailers pose a similar threat.

Reporter Scott Morris: 425-339-3292 or smorris@ heraldnet.com.

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