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Wal-Mart seeks postponed hearing

The first hearing over Wal-Mart plans for a Supercenter may be postponed from the scheduled July 31 date until the end of August.

Eric Walker, senior county planner, said Wal-Mart officials have requested a time extension to prepare materials for the hearing. Walker said if that request is granted, the first hearing before the Hood River County Planning Commission will be delayed and re-advertised so that citizens are afforded the opportunity for comment.

If the county decides against that request, the formal review of Wal-Mart’s application will begin at 6:30 p.m. on the third floor of the county courthouse.

Walker said, to date, the county has received more than 300 official written and oral comments on the schematics for a 185,000 square foot store at the junction of Frankton and Country Club roads. That correspondence is in addition to the December submission of a 1,056 signature petition against the development and another petition with 2,000 names in favor.

He said there is a strict set of criteria governing quasi-judical hearings which must be able to stand up to a court challenge. Therefore, Walker said that although all citizens comments are welcome, those centered on the decision criteria will carry the most weight.

“Our evaluation can’t be based on arbitrary opinions or emotional factors,” said Walker.

The central items under scrutiny are the compatibility of the project with the surrounding area, design details, building placement, parking, protection of natural resources — including air quality — traffic issues, and support infrastructure.

Walker said written remarks will be given the same consideration in the decision-making process as verbal testimony.

Mike Benedict, planning director, is asking that written comments be submitted prior to the scheduled hearing date. He said that will allow time for duplication and collation so they can be included in the planning commission’s review packets.

At the upcoming hearing, both pro and con arguments will be heard and speakers will be given a maximum of three minutes for a presentation. If there is not enough time for the commissioners to listen to all oral remarks, Walker said the hearing will likely be continued to a second evening.

Copies of Wal-Mart’s application are available for review in the planning department at no cost or may be purchased for 25 cents per page. A copy of the staff report will be available for inspection or purchase at least seven days prior to the first hearing.

The controversial application was first submitted by Wal-Mart in December. In mid-January the county outlined 57 areas of concern that required more in-depth information, primarily about traffic, infrastructure and wetland protection.

The updated plans were returned on May 30 and the application was deemed complete on June 14, which set the clock ticking on the 120-day review period. However, Walker said if Wal-Mart is granted an extension on the site plan review, the added days will not count.

The updated application includes 788 parking spaces with numerous tree wells and other plantings throughout the lot.

The west-facing store front remains as originally shown with columns, canopies and a breezeway to break up the 550-foot face.

Fish culverts and more riparian landscaping have also been added.

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