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Wal-Mart revives plans for Rohnert Park superstore

  • Martin Bennett, left and Roger DeWitt Carrillo are opposed to Wal-Mart expanding its Rohnert Park store into a superstore. (KENT PORTER/ PD)

Wal-Mart is resuming efforts to expand its Rohnert Park store into a superstore, reviving a controversial plan that was halted in court after one of the more divisive arguments in recent city history.

The city Planning Commission will hold a public hearing Thursday to review the project and new studies evaluating its effect on the community.

"We're pursuing opportunities to help ensure our Rohnert Park customers have access to the products they need for their families," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Rachel Wall said in an email.

Opponents are vowing to wage another all-out battle against the world's largest retailer two years after they fought to a standstill its plans to add a grocery market and more retail space to its Redwood Drive store.

"We're digging in for at least another year's campaign, or more," said Marty Bennett, co-chairman of the Living Wage Coalition, which was a central player in the previous battle over the proposed expansion.

In 2010, the Planning Commission unanimously rejected an earlier version of the environmental report for the project. That vote came amid a furious citywide debate, which drew opponents and supporters from around the county, over Wal-Mart's labor practices and whether the superstore would boost the economy and offer more low-cost shopping alternatives or drive smaller competitors out of business.

Soon after, the City Council overturned the commission's ruling on a 4-1 vote, saying the expansion conformed to the city's general plan and its benefits outweighed potential negative impacts.

Opponents, some of whom had worked successfully to block an earlier Wal-Mart plan to open a Santa Rosa store in Roseland, then sued.

Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau in 2011 ordered parts of the environmental report dealing with traffic and noise to be redone. But he also handed the city a victory, dismissing the lawsuit's key complaint that the council was not authorized to approve the project.

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