Plans proceed for Wal-Mart

The pre-application meeting for a proposed Wal Mart super center on Oct. 29 was crowded with more than 20 officials from Hood River agencies.

Mike Benefit, county planning director, was pleased with the "low key, professional" tone of the meeting which centered on environmental, traffic and design concerns.

Wal Mart representatives were Scott Franklin and Robert Hatfield of Pacific Land Designs, the company which is laying the regulatory groundwork for the development.

Earlier this month, the Clackamas-based firm submitted preliminary sketches for a 185,000 square foot retail store on a little more than 16 acres at the junction of Frankton and County Club roads.

"We're very excited about this project, I think we can come up with a plan that all parties can live with," Franklin told the group.

The key topics of discussion at the Oct. 29 meeting were the protection of Phelps Creek, which runs through the property, incorporating existing trees and vegetation into development plans, alleviating flooding during storms off the 12-acre hard-surfaced parking lot, and accommodating the dramatic increase of vehicle and pedestrian traffic into the area.

Cindy Walbridge, city planning director, told Franklin that it would be difficult for a massive structure to meet county design codes that required it to be compatible with the surrounding area, a prerequisite even though the land is zoned for commercial use.

"Compatibility is going to be a tough one, but I think it's a standard that needs to be addressed," said Walbridge.

Although the proposed building site does not lie within the city's jurisdiction, Walbridge told Franklin that the county had adopted design elements developed by the city in the mid-90s that would require the building facade to be broken up by architectural elements to add "visual interest." She also recommended that Wal Mart make the height and width of its signs compatible with the city's sign code since the property was slated for annexation sometime in the future and any non-compatible advertisements would then need to be replaced.

Anne Saxby, director of the Hood River Soil and Water Conservation District, said that agency was concerned about the proposed straightening of Phelps Creek because it would increase the velocity of water flows downstream that could lead to bank erosion. In addition, she said removal of shade trees could threaten the habitat of native trout runs.

Jeanette Kloos, scenic highway coordinator for the Oregon Department of Transportation, informed Franklin that any widening of West Cascade Avenue, which is also the federally-protected historic Columbia River Highway, was not allowed by law without mitigation measures that met the approval of all involved parties.

Franklin was asked to submit a wetland inventory and traffic engineering studies with Wal-Mart's official application forms.

"Ultimately, the burden is going to be on you to show compliance with these standards," said Eric Walker, senior planner for the county.

Once those documents have been received, Mike Benedict, county planning director, said citizens will be provided with the opportunity to comment on the proposed design elements. He told Franklin that the city had recently adopted a code limiting the size of commercial structures within its jurisdiction to 50,000 square feet. Benedict said the new ordinance had been forwarded to the county for review on Oct. 12 and, following due process, could be adopted within 180 days.

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