On May 15, the citizens of Glendale, Arizona voted to uphold city zoning rules that will prevent Wal-Mart from building a 220,000 square foot, 24-hour supercenter. Nearly 60 percent of voters favored maintaining the zoning and keeping Wal-Mart out.
In 1999, the City Council rezoned a 39 acre site from agricultural to commercial in order to allow construction of a shopping center. City officials and nearby residents were led to believe that the center would house small, neighborhood-serving shops in a pedestrian-oriented design.
When Wal-Mart emerged as the primary tenant, residents formed Glendale Citizens for Responsible Development (CRD) and mounted a grassroots campaign to stop the project. They succeeded in convincing the City Council to enact new zoning rules that prohibit 24-hour operations and stores larger than 90,000 square feet on the site.
Wal-Mart and the property owners gathered enough signatures to force a ballot referendum on the new zoning. Retail developers are increasingly turning to voter referenda as a tool for overturning unfavorable city council decisions. They almost always out-spend opponents, dropping as much as half a million dollars on a single campaign.
In Glendale, Wal-Mart spent $300,000 to persuade voters. A video mailed to 20,000 households accused city officials of misleading the public and succumbing to union pressure in approving the new zoning. Without Wal-Mart, the video contended the site could become home to “adult bookstores, laundromats, and sleazy bars.”
CRD and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents supermarket workers, spent $68,000 on their campaign to defeat the supercenter. Wal-Mart is non-union.
Wal-Mart’s Glendale project is part of a major push to open supercenters throughout Arizona. The retailer has been rejected in Chandler, Gilbert, and Tucson. Voters in Payson and Yuma approved Wal-Mart stores in referenda held in 1998 and 1999. Voters in Mesa will consider a ballot measure on Wal-Mart in March 2002.
In Flagstaff, residents and city officials are also weighing a Wal-Mart supercenter proposal. A public debate in April drew a standing-room-only crowd. A grassroots citizens organization, Friends of Flagstaff’s Future (F3), is leading opposition to the store. F3 argues that the city should instead focus on its revitalized downtown, locally owned stores, and neighborhood business districts.