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Wal-Mart confirms super center plan

The word is out.

Wal-Mart wants to build a super center in Hood River, but will not submit an official building application until it has worked out design criteria with county and city officials.

"We are very interested in what the community thinks because we certainly want to create a store that blends well and complements the surrounding area," said Amy Hill, Wal-Mart spokeswoman for the western regional office in Arkansas.

She said the existing Wal-Mart in Hood River has always worked to be a good community partner, including the distribution of $56,000 last year in scholarship funds and charitable donations.

Hill said the national chain is aware of citizen and business leader concerns over the impact of having an 185,000 square foot building placed in the rural setting. But she said the current facility has always managed to co-exist well with other enterprises and she doesn't foresee problems with that relationship in the future.

"Just because we're building a larger store doesn't mean anything is going to change," said Hill.

She said the new store will still have the same 36 general merchandise departments that are already located in the smaller 72,000 square foot facility. But, according to Hill, it will also include a full-service grocery, tire and lube shop and an optical center. In addition, she said the expanded space will allow for wider aisles, better signage and an overall "brighter feel."

Hill confirmed that the chain store is currently negotiating contracts for the purchase of a little more than 16 acres at the junction of Frankton and Country Club Roads. That commercial land lies just outside the city limits and is not subject to the new 50,000-square foot size limitation on retail outlets within Hood River that will go into effect on Nov. 8. The parcels are under county jurisdiction, which has not adopted size restrictions for these structures.

However, Mike Benedict, county planning director, said his department will work closely with Pacific Land Design, project developers from Clackamas, to determine criteria for parking, utilities and landscaping. The first negotiation between these parties is scheduled for Monday afternoon and will also involve city officials. Hill said once the preliminary details have been worked out, the proposed sketches will be redrafted and the formal application process will then be initiated.

Of particular concern to Cindy Walbridge, city planning director, is the 12-acre proposed "sea of asphalt" parking lot that is currently broken up by only 40 trees. She said the loading docks are also shown facing the freeway, when city codes now dictate that the front of a business be oriented toward a street.

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