Verdict expected tonight on Wal-Mart plans

Planning Commission begins final deliberations on proposed superstore

After almost a two year wait, a verdict may finally be handed down tonight on Wal-Mart plans for a super center.

The Hood River Planning Commission begins deliberating over the controversial application at 7:30 p.m. in the county courthouse. Eric Walker, senior planner for the county, said the appointed body is expected to render a decision that — no matter which way it goes — will likely be appealed to the Board of Commissioners.

At issue is Wal-Mart’s proposal to build a 186,000 square foot store on commercially zoned property at the junction of Frankton and Country Club roads. Four hearings have been held since August to discuss issues related to development of the 16-acre parcel, including floodplain protection, traffic flows, and compatibility of the structure with the surrounding landscape.

In early October, the commission was told that the county could face legal challenges — no matter what direction it took on the plans. Greg Hathaway, attorney for the applicant, said that Wal-Mart officials believed all of the site plan criteria had been met in a “legally defensible” manner. Conversely, the Citizens for Responsible Growth, the opposition group, said the county could be liable for any flooding by the retail giant’s grading and excavation of the property.

At tonight’s hearing, the commission will also consider a request by Stu Watson and Kate Huseby, CRG co-chairs, for “standing” in the case. The two residents, who live near the proposed site, are seeking the right of appeal by claiming that Wal-Mart’s new store would adversely affect their quality of life because of increased lighting and traffic. They also argue that the larger store injures the mission of the CRG to promote the growth of smaller businesses that complement a rural lifestyle.

In December of 2001 Wal-Mart submitted its preliminary application to replace the existing 72,000 square foot building on West Cascade Avenue. Those plans were tendered just three hours before the Hood River County Commission was slated to take action on an emergency zoning ordinance centered on economics that would have blocked any “big box” construction. Several weeks earlier the City of Hood River had requested that the county adopt its ordinance banning single commercial structures of more than 50,000 square feet.

Once Wal-Mart had “grandfathered” in its right to request the super center, county planners began reviewing the site plans and sent the company’s architects and engineers back to do multiple redesigns. Debate over compatibility and floodplain storage became the two outstanding issues that raised pro and con arguments during hearings this summer and fall.

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