The Hood River City Council verdict is in. On Dec. 12, city councilors ruled 5 to 2 to overturn a Nov. 22 planning commission ruling that essentially denied a 30,000-square-foot expansion request from Walmart for its existing store.
Becky Brun, speaking as a board member of Hood River Citizens for a Local Economy - one of the primary groups opposing the expansion - responded to the ruling in an email to the News Dec. 13.
Brun confirmed that the HRCLE is planning to appeal the council's decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals - the next governing body with jurisdiction in land use conflicts.
"We are very disappointed in Hood River City Council's decision to overturn the recommendation of the planning commission," she wrote.
Brent Foster, an attorney who also works with HRCLE, added in a second email, "More disappointing, however, is that the Mayor and majority of the Council allowed Walmart to ignore the same laws that the rest of Hood River has to comply with.
"This was an outrageous decision and one that should make everyone in Hood River aware there is a need to pay much closer attention to how the City Council is running the City."
Acknowledging that there were imperfections in the original city planning agreement with Walmart, Brun compared the Nov. 22 planning commission's ruling against that of city council on Dec. 12.
"The 1991 approval of the original Walmart store was not consistent or clear. There was doubt around whether the 1991 approval was for 102,000 square feet or 72,000 square feet. The planning commission gave the citizens of Hood River and local business owners the benefit of the doubt (in its ruling) while city council gave Walmart the benefit of the doubt.
"Giving Walmart the benefit of the doubt was not the right decision for our community."
Brun went on to articulate her organization's concerns related to the impact of Walmart employment and benefit practices on local employment and competing businesses.
"The average grocery store - and Walmart is the largest grocery retailer in the nation - sees profits of approximately $466,000 per week, or more than $24 million per year. That's money currently going to other grocery stores in Hood River who have a much better track record for fair employee wages, good working conditions and environmental responsibility.
"We feel it's important to take this case to LUBA-not just for our community, but for other towns across Oregon facing the same land-use battles with Walmart and other multi-national corporations..."
Any citizen may file an appeal on land use rulings with LUBA and are entitled to a hearing if all conditions of appeal are met. The appeal, however, does not halt a development that has been ruled as allowable.
In order to stop development while a LUBA appeal is pending, the petitioner (in this case HRCLE) must file a "motion for stay" of the land use decision or limited land use decision. State law and LUBA's rules govern whether a stay can be issued in a particular case.
If LUBA grants a stay of a decision approving a specific development, state law requires the petitioner (HRCLE) to post a $5,000 bond.
If the project is "stayed" and the appeal proceeds, the LUBA decision may not be the end of the road for the two contentious parties. Either one may yet again appeal, bringing the LUBA decision before the Oregon Court of Appeals.