Super Wal-Mart plan denied Threat of flooding pushed County Commission to overturn application

January 7

In a coats-on hearing in the venerable, but chilly, Hood River Middle School Monday, a split Hood River County Board of Commissioners denied Wal-Mart Corp.’s site application.

Citing hazardous traveling conditions, Wal-Mart representatives were not present for the hearing on the county Planning Commission’s conditional approval of the application for a 186,000-square-foot supercenter in the county urban growth area west of Hood River.

Wal-Mart representatives turned back in Cascade Locks Tuesday afternoon, stated a company fax read in the hearing by county administrator Dave Meriwether. The Wal-Mart fax claimed it feared for “life and limb of our team.”

However, Christine Cook, the attorney for the appellant Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG) drove from Portland Tuesday, as did the county’ hydrologic consultant Ken Vigil. Both testified in the hearing.

In the end, flood concerns and a big-picture approach to the compatibility issue were what brought the commission to its decision to overturn the Planning Commission decision made in November.

“This building does not meet the standard of compatibility,” City Planning Director Cindy Walbridge told the commission on Monday, because of its bulk, scale and size.

However, in his fax, Wal-Mart attorney Greg Hathaway argued that the city’s and CRG’s interpretation of the compatibility standard was “incorrect and unlawful.”

“Their interpretation of comparing the height, bulk and scale of surrounding buildings would automatically result in the denial of any structure larger than those existing. Such an interpretation would act as a ’defacto’ footprint limitation,” wrote Hathaway.

He contended the evidence in the record would show that the proposed store would not adversely affect neighboring properties or increase downstream flooding.

Commissioners Les Perkins and Carol York, and Commission Chair Rodger Schock voted in favor of rescinding the Planning Commission rulings on the flood plain and compatibility, while commissioners Chuck Thomsen and Bob Hastings voted to uphold the ruling.

Monday’s action was a milestone decision in the two-year-old request to build the supercenter on Country Club Road near Frankton Road. Wal-Mart’s most recent design changes were deemed insufficient to meet the land use compatibility standard, according to testimony by city officials and CRG.

The proposed building is too large for its surroundings and there are too many questions about where flood water will go, commissioners ruled after a brief discussion of the issues.

About 40 people attended the hearing, which featured testimony by City Council President Linda Rouches, Walbridge, Catherine Cook and hydrologist Roger Sutherland, also representing CRG.

Wal-Mart officials were unable to be reached on Tuesday morning about whether they will appeal the denial of the site plan to the state Land Use Board of Appeals. Before that action can be taken, the county must prepare and adopt findings that outline its decision.

These documents are expected to be reviewed and signed by the commissioners on Jan. 20 and an appeal can then be filed within the next 21 days.

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