Wal-Mart wins 

Opponents plan to take fight to the ballot

Two weeks after Woodland Park's City Council approved the mountain city's first Wal-Mart by a 5-2 vote, all eyes are on what the voting public will do.

"If the majority votes to bring in Wal-Mart, that's fine," said Dave Paraday, spokesman for Citizens for Responsible Growth -- an anti-big-box group that has petitioned for a referendum that could nullify City Council's decision and possibly kill Wal-Mart's plan.

"We feel [City Council's] minds were made up long ago," he said, and the public should have the final say.

The last-ditch effort by Wal-Mart foes marks the latest chapter in a debate that has bitterly divided this 7,300-resident city 20 miles west of Colorado Springs.

"There were as many people who supported Wal-Mart as there were against it," said City Manager Mark Fitzgerald, who attended the council hearings, which lasted more than 40 hours. The council's decision to approve both a zoning change and Wal-Mart's development plan "fundamentally decided" what will be done, he said.

But a lot remains up in the air. The petition drive coincides with another special election organized by Paraday's group, to be held on May 3, in which Woodland Park voters will decide whether to place a six-month moratorium on any big-box stores.

"The referendum is much more serious than the moratorium," said Mike Ciletti, a consultant for Wal-Mart in Colorado. "If it's a question of just the moratorium," he said, "it doesn't affect the outcome."

But a referendum on Council's decision would halt construction slated for August.

"Certainly I take that seriously," Ciletti said, "and I will fight it."

-- Dan Wilcock


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