Wal-Mart has asked Rohnert Park to delay the progress of the company's proposed expansion of its Redwood Drive store so that the public can have more time to evaluate it.
The company this week requested that the city circulate a revised environmental impact report for 45 days — a step that city officials had previously decided was not necessary because the changes weren't extensive.
The world's largest retailer cast the request primarily as a way to alleviate concerns that the public hadn't had enough chance to check out and comment on the proposed expansion. But it is also a bid to derail appeals filed against an earlier Planning Commission approval of the proposed expansion.
Officials are virtually certain to grant Wal-Mart's request — "It's not really up to the city to deny" it, said City Manager Gabe Gonzalez. That ultimately would send the proposal back to the Planning Commission.
In a letter to the city this week, the company registered its disagreement with opponents who have appealed the commission's January approval of the project, saying a circulation of the document is not legally required.
At the same time, company vice president John Clarke made clear that Wal-Mart wants to avoid the eventuality of the City Council taking up those two appeals, by a resident and by the Sierra Club and Sonoma County Conservation Action.
"Walmart believes that preparation and circulation of a partial draft EIR will obviate the need for the City Council to hear the appeals," he said.
In his letter, Clarke said that Wal-Mart wants to satisfy concerns expressed by commissioners John Borba and David Armstrong that the public hadn't had time to review the revised environmental report.
Sections of the report were changed on a judge's orders. Wal-Mart has asked that only those sections of the report be circulated for review. The rest of the document was circulated when the application for the project was filed in 2010.
The company's proposal to add a grocery, expanding the 20-year-old story by 35,256 square feet, has been a lightning rod in the city for years, attracting opponents from around the county who condemn Wal-Mart's business practices. And it has traveled a somewhat tortured route through the city's planning process.
In 2010, the Planning Commission unanimously rejected an earlier version of the environmental report for the project. The City Council then overturned the commission's ruling on a 4-1 vote, saying the expansion conformed to the city general plan and its benefits outweighed potential negative impacts.
Opponents then sued the city over the decision, a move that eventually led Superior Court Judge Rene Chouteau to order parts of the environmental report dealing with traffic and noise to be redone.
On Wednesday, the Rohnert Park resident who filed an appeal of the commission's approval, said he was pleased by the company's latest move.
"I think its shows a good deal of responsibility on Wal-Mart's part," Matt Weinstein said.
"I would assume that they are doing it for legal purposes," he said. "I'm sure there is some measure of liability they are trying to mitigate, but that being said I am happy and surprised."
You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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