Wal-Mart to try again to expand Rohnert Park store

Wal-Mart is trying again to expand its Rohnert Park store into a Superstore, reviving a controversial project that was halted in court after one of the more divisive arguments in recent city history.

Officials with the world's largest retailer, which is set to submit a revised environmental impact report for the project to the city's Planning Commission Thursday, did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

But opponents who earlier fought to a standstill the company's plan to add a grocery and more retail space to its Redwood Drive store are vowing they will do it again.

"We're digging in for another one- to two-year campaign here," 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. That vote came amid a furious city-wide debate — which drew opponents and supporters from around the county — about Wal-Mart's labor practices and about whether the Superstore would boost the economy and offer more low-cost shopping alternatives, or shut down smaller competitors.

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

That led opponents, some of whom had worked successfully to block an earlier Wal-Mart plan to open a store in Roseland, to mount a legal challenge.

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

That set the stage for Wal-Mart to renew its application, which seeks to add 35,256 square feet to the 22-year-old, 131,532 square-foot store.

City staff has recommended approval of the revised report. It does not include new mitigation measures because analysis concluded there were no additional impacts beyond those originally identified, said planning and building manager Marilyn Ponton.

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