News staff writer
The Hood River City Planning Commission rejection of Walmart's expansion will be reviewed by the City Council Dec. 12, and in the end it had less to do about politics than it did the calendar.
The City is required to reach a decision on the matter by Dec. 31 or else Walmart could potentially go to the circuit court to seek a judicial approval of their request.
If the council had waited for Walmart to request a review, it could have potentially led to a situation were the city was attempting to cram multiple meetings into the week between Christmas and New Year's to finish the review.
"This is simply calendar management," Mayor Arthur Babitz said. "We would like to get a schedule that actually lets us review this."
The planning commission was expected to make its rejection of the planned 30,000-square-foot expansion official at its meeting Tuesday night.
Walmart would have had 12 days to appeal the ruling issued at the Nov. 29 planning commission meeting, requesting a city council review.
To address the upcoming holiday schedule interruptions, the city council decided to proceed with scheduling a review of the planning commission's ruling at their Dec. 12 meeting, even though Walmart has not yet made an appeal.
Based on the Nov. 29 commission meeting ruling, the city council will be able to meet the requisite 14-day public notice needed to undertake the Walmart expansion review Dec. 12.
By preemptively scheduling the review for Dec. 12, the holiday scheduling issues related to a Walmart appeal occurring between Christmas and New Year's become moot.
According to Kearns, there were no legal issues with the council scheduling the review without Walmart formally requesting one.
Kearns said he was fairly sure Walmart would appeal the decision - unless the company decides to pull its application, in which case, the council's review would be dropped at that point.
The Dec. 12 council review would not allow any further information to be entered into the record, but would allow for public comment before the city council reaches its decision.
"This will not just be a do-over of what the planning commission did," City Attorney Dan Kearns said.
Kearns did not want the city to allow a delay of the review past the original Dec. 31 deadline, but said the city should consider it if Walmart requested a delay.
"My objective is to put you in the driver's seat and to have control of this process," Kearns said. Ultimately, a short-staffed council of four approved a review of the planning commission's denial of Walmart's expansion.
In a second motion the council stated that Walmart would be granted a continuance from the Dec. 12 hearing if requested as long as the delay date was set at least 31 days from Dec. 31 - again addressing concerns about holiday interruptions.
"The city planning commission has done a lot of work on this," Babitz told the council after the motions passed. "All of us need to prepare to do homework. You've got to spend the time to do this work because this is a significant issue."
In the only other item of business at Monday's meeting the council approved $11,500 to purchase an office trailer in which to store the city's historical building records and plans after the planning department moves from its current offices at 301 Oak St. into the renovated City Hall.
City Manager Bob Francis said the trailer would be located at the public works yard, where it would still be accessible to the public but better secured from theft and fire than at its current location.