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Walmart Expansion: Goliath Meet David

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

In today’s Kitsap Sun you’ll see a story about a well-known local couple’s six-year fight to mitigate effects on their neighborhood of a planned expansion of the Bethel Avenue Walmart store.

Bill and Mary Ann Huntington, Westsound Utility District commissioner and former Port of Bremerton commission respectively, won sweeping concessions from the mega-corp, which scaled back its plans and added costly measures to reduce the amount of noise and light produced on the site.

Bill Huntington said he and his wife never used their public positions to advantage during the more than six-year legal battle. Having been in business themselves, the Huntingtons are not trying to stand in the way of progress, Bill said.

The expansion, which will turn the place into a Walmart Supercenter with grocery section, will add 50 to 100 positions to the current staff of 200, a company spokeswoman said. She also noted the whopping sales tax revenue poured into local coffers from the big box store.

Bill was wary, however, and is taking a wait and see attitude toward Walmart. “I hope they’re good neighbors,” he said.

The Huntington’s attorney Ryan Vancil, who has handled other Walmart cases, said the couple’s victory was unprecedented in his career. Typically, he said, “You’re fighting the largest retail corporation in the world. You can see the writing on the wall. … Typically, they can come in and out-expert you and out-spend you on attorneys. I would consider it a significant victory.”

The chink in Walmart’s armor, according to Vancil was the expert they initially brought in to testify about noise levels. The county’s hearing examiner deemed the Huntington’s expert more credible. Walmart ultimately got a new expert.

County officials confirmed what Vancil had to say about the noise expert. Once Walmart saw it was over a fence, however, the company was prompt, complete and clear in its dealings with the county, said senior planner Jeff Smith.

Smith noted the lengths to which Walmart went to redesign its building in better keeping with the Bethel Corridor Plan, with more pedestrian friendly areas and some nice architectural details. The company also came up with a noise mitigation plan that took advantage of the natural topography and so helped for the most part hide delivery areas at the back of the store from the neighbors’ view. The residents’ view of the Olympics won’t be marred either.

In a major concession, Walmart agreed to stop nighttime deliveries, and, according to Jeff Smith, that goes into effect as soon at the hearing examiner give the green light to the project, which it appears he will.

Construction on the store wouldn’t start until 2011.

The Walmart spokeswoman said South Kitsap has been chomping at the bit for a Supercenter. So where do you stand on Walmart?
a. I can’t wait for the Supercenter to open. They have really inexpensive groceries.
b. I shop at Walmart, but I wear a bag over my head.
c. The day I set foot in that store just shoot me.


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