Wal-Mart, the biggest big-box on the block, plans to supersize its Rohnert Park store, adding a full-service grocery.
If approved, the 35,000-square-foot expansion would increase the store?s footprint to 167,000 square feet, edging out Lowe?s in Cotati as the largest big-box store in Sonoma County.
The world?s largest retailer has submitted plans to expand its Redwood Drive location by 28 percent, adding the larger grocery section the company says customers have been clamoring for.
?We?ve been a part of the Rohnert Park community for many years, and we?re hearing from them that they want these additional offerings,? said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Angela Stoner.
The proposal is almost certain to open a new front in the long-running battle that has pitted large corporate retailers against local merchants protecting their turf and activists advocating better wages and benefits.
The plan already is drawing criticism from the local grocery industry and activists who derailed Wal-Mart?s plans to build a store in Santa Rosa.
The Living Wage Coalition of Sonoma County vowed Thursday to push for Rohnert Park to study economic and social effects of the project, not just environmental ones.
?We?re going to to take a very serious look at this,? said Marty Bennett, co-chairman of the coalition.
Tom Scott, manager of Oliver?s Market, expressed concern about the wages and health benefits Wal-Mart pays workers ? issues that likely will be raised by critics as the project makes its way through the city approval process.
?Wal-Mart is able to cut costs out of the system, but there is a price paid for that,? Scott said. ?It doesn?t show up on the receipt, but it shows up in the community.?
Wal-Mart already sells a limited selection of groceries at its Rohnert Park store. The new grocery would be at the southern end of the expanded store and would include a bakery, produce and deli, Stoner said. An expansion of the garden center to the north and new bathrooms also are planned.
The expansion would bring to the store all of the features of a typical Wal-Mart Supercenter, although its name won?t be changed, Stoner said.
Wal-Mart shopper Betty Beckman, a retired Rohnert Park resident who lives on a fixed income, said she would welcome the expansion. Because the store carries only a small selection of groceries, she said she must make additional trips to area supermarkets to complete her shopping.
?With the economy the way it is, we need to do everything we can do to keep our shopping dollars down,? Beckman said, rolling her cart past loaves of bread selling for $1.26 and Fetzer wine for $5.97 a bottle.
Wal-Mart?s application is still in its early stages.
Last week, the City Council hired consulting firm Michael Brandman Associates to create an environmental impact report for the project. Wal-Mart will pay $343,000 for the study and city administrative costs.
The city Planning Commission will hold a meeting in late May or June to give the public the opportunity to express what it wants to see studied by the environmental report, said Maureen Rich, senior senior city planner.
Wal-Mart began the application process in January, nearly four months after its plans for a store in Santa Rosa bogged down in court.
In September, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Robert Boyd ruled that the environmental study for a proposed, 106,000-square-foot store in the Roseland neighborhood was flawed. Wal-Mart officially abandoned its four-year effort in February.