Wal-Mart Planners examine proposal

Hood River County planners are combing through Wal-Mart's proposed super center schematics to determine if the project meets key design elements.

"There are a lot of significant standards that they're going to have to comply with, it's not a guarantee by any means," said Eric Walker, county senior planner.

For example, he said one of 11 key tests during a site plan review is "compatibility," whether the height, bulk and scale of the building will fit in with surrounding land uses. Walker said that condition will likely face a challenge since the 185,000-square-foot structure will be built at the junction of Frankton and Country Club roads, an area which is enveloped primarily by residences and a few small businesses.

Scott Franklin of Pacific Land Designs, Wal-Mart's developer, said since the 16-acre parcel is already zoned for commercial use, the submitted site plans go far beyond existing criteria to mitigate the visual, wetland, landscaping and traffic impacts brought by a large-scale business.

"We made a concerted effort to address the concerns that were brought up in the pre-application process and during public hearings," said Franklin.

For example, Franklin said that a wetlands issue was raised because Phelps Creek runs through a portion of the proposed site. However, he said that Wal-Mart plans restore the creek, which has been relocated at least once since the '60s, back into its natural channel. In addition, he said 80 parking stalls were eliminated to allow for restoration of the surrounding riparian area.

He said another point of concern was that the 12-acre parking lot would be a "sea of asphalt" and would be ugly to look at and flood the storm drain system during heavy rainfall. To offset those arguments, Franklin said existing trees on the east side of the property were primarily preserved and numerous tree wells and other plantings were placed throughout the lot. In addition, he said Wal-Mart has proposed that storm water runoff from the parking lot be channeled into an underground chamber and then fed gradually into the central water system to prevent flooding.

Franklin said Wal-Mart is also proposing to plant a row of trees along the southern boundary of the development and to place the garden center on its northern edge so it is more aesthetically pleasing when viewed from County Club Road or nearby Interstate 84. He said the 550-foot length of store front will also be broken up with columns, canopies and a breezeway.

"We feel it's a good application and is something the county can be proud of because what we're going to end up with is a store that has a nice appearance," said Franklin.

He said Wal-Mart's traffic survey has shown that when the store is built there will be 8,790 trips per day along Frankton and Country Club roads, with about 1,500 of those from vehicles passing through the area. To keep that traffic volume flowing smoothly, Franklin said that a stop light would be needed on Cascade Avenue and Wal-Mart has proposed moving the intersection with County Club Road about 500 feet south to prevent any blocking of the freeway off-ramp at Exit 64. He said that according to state standards the current two-lane roadway would still be sufficient for the projected increase in traffic if a center turn lane is built to access the main driveway off Country Club. He said Wal-Mart is also proposing two additional access points on Frankton, which would be widened to accommodate sidewalks and a bicycle lane.

Wal-Mart: the process from here

Senior Planner Eric Walker said the county will compare Wal-Mart's site plans to its zoning criteria during the 30-day review period which began when the national retailer submitted its formal building application on Dec. 17.

If the county finds areas where the plan has inconsistencies or elements that have not been adequately addressed, Mike Benedict, planning director, will outline these issues in a letter that will be posted to the applicant by mid-January.

At that point, Walker said Wal-Mart officials will have 150 days to provide the requested information and, once the application is deemed to be "complete," it will be forwarded to the planning commission for review.

At that time a public hearing will be scheduled and Walker said written comments centered on Wal-Mart's proposed site plan are now being accepted and will be entered into the formal record.

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