Citizen group mobilizes against 'big box' plans

The Citizens for Responsible Growth (CRG) are on the move to stop any "massive" development from siting in Hood River.

On Dec. 10, Kathy Eastman, CRG representative, asked the Hood River City Council to support passage of an emergency ordinance that will limit the "footprint" of commercial buildings within the county to 50,000 square feet. The new regulation would only be in effect for 61 days, but Eastman said that time period would give county officials time to possibly adopt a permanent code.

The issue goes before the Hood River County Commission next Monday and the council declined to attend since it will also be holding a special session that same night. However, the council voted to send a letter urging the county to take whatever action is possible to incorporate the new size restriction, and accompanying design criteria, as quickly as possible. In addition, that letter strongly requests that the county adopt all city zoning and design ordinances in the urban growth areas which will someday be annexed into the city limits. The county has drawn sharp criticism for not adopting the city's new sign code, which limits the sizes and number of commercial advertisements.

"I think we ought to make it really clear that we want our ordinances enacted and enforced," said Councilor Charles Haynie.

The new commercial building size restrictions were adopted by the city on Oct. 8 and immediately forwarded to the county planning department for its review. Under a formal agreement made in 1997, the county is slated to begin the public hearing process on a duplicate code or a revised version in January.

At its Dec. 10 meeting, the city agreed to make a slight revision to its own footprint code that was requested by Will Carey, county land use attorney. That change clarified that the city's intent in passing the ordinance was not to restrict any one commercial development to only 50,000 square feet, just to ensure that multiple buildings be required for larger complexes.

The city's move to limit "big box" development was viewed by some officials as ironic since Wal-Mart had stepped forward three days earlier with preliminary sketches for a 185,000 square foot super center on commercial property at the junction of Frankton and Country Club Roads. Following a pre-application meeting with the national chain store's developers and a number of involved public agencies, the 260-member grassroots citizen group formed to fight against the large-scale enterprise which they believed would harm the existing businesses and spoil the river city's "rural character."

"We are not against Wal-Mart specifically, our concern would be over any `big box' development that wanted to settle in Hood River," said CRG representative Maui Meyer.

To educate citizens about its stand, CRG has printed 500 brochures which are now available at downtown and other area businesses. The organization has also drafted a map of Wal-Mart's proposed building site that contrasts the scale of the development with the surrounding landscape.

If the national chain store turns in a formal building application before the new size restriction has gone into effect, it will have "grandfathered" rights to develop its super center -- although it will still be required to mitigate traffic, wetland, landscaping and design concerns.

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