Wal-Mart turns in final plans during debate

Even as public debate over a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter was underway last Thursday at the Hood River Rotary Club, the updated schematics were being handed over to county planners.

Wal-Mart foe Al Norman and Amy Hill, Wal-Mart community affairs director for the western region, were presenting pro and con arguments when the thick package of documents arrived 15 days ahead of the anticipated delivery date.

In January, the county asked the national chain store to provide more in-depth information on 57 issues that centered primarily on traffic, infrastructure and wetland protection. In December, Wal-Mart submitted a proposal to construct a 185,000 square foot store on a little more than 16 acres at the junction of Frankton and Country Club roads.

Eric Walker, senior planner, said he and other staffers will spend this week reviewing hundreds of pages of documentation that outlines Wal-Mart’s answer to these areas of concern.

“I think they’ve met most of the issues we asked for but we’re still in the evaluation process,” said Walker.

If the application is deemed complete, Walker said the clock will begin ticking on the 120-day review period and the first Planning Commission meeting is expected to take place between late July and mid-August. If he and other staffers conclude there are still questions to be answered, they will request further information from Scott Franklin of Pacific Land Designs, the Clackamas-based firm that is overseeing the regulatory process for the proposal.

Walker said the four most notable new additions to the Wal-Mart plan are:

The north-facing entrance has been revamped to make it more attractive from the freeway and Country Club Road access.

Fish passage culverts have been placed under both Frankton and Country Club roads for flows from Phelps Creek, which Wal-Mart proposes to re-route back into its original channel.

About one-half of an acre has been added to landscaping plans that restore the riparian area around Phelps Creek.

A kiosk and small picnic area is proposed between the existing Country Club Road intersection with West Cascade Avenue and its proposed relocation of about 500 feet to the east. The small park is intended to mitigate the widening of West Cascade Avenue, which is part of the Historic Columbia River Highway.

Walker said the remainder of the application remains much the same, except that Wal-Mart has broadened the area for its traffic analysis to include most of the intersections in the western part of the city and urban growth area. He said this new information will be reviewed by both county engineering staff and a special consultant.

The new plans include 788 parking spaces with numerous tree wells and other plantings throughout the lot and the west-facing store front remains as originally shown with columns, canopies and a breezeway to break up the 550-foot face. Wal-Mart is still proposing to widen Frankton Road for two additional access points and include a landscaped sidewalk and a bicycle lane.

In the past six months, Walker said the county planning department has received more than 200 e-mails and direct mail comments to include in the formal record. He said that correspondence is in addition to December submission of a 1,056 signature petition against the development and another petition with 2,000 names in favor of the larger store.

Prior to the first Planning Commission meeting, Walker said notices will be sent out to property owners within 500 feet of the proposed Supercenter and the event will be well advertised to provide opportunity for public comment.

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