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Wal-Mart hearing planned for next week

County Planning Commission takes a long look at superstore proposal

The Hood River County Planning Commission is expecting a large volume of pro and con testimony over Wal-Mart plans for a super center.

To accommodate crowds, the appointed body has scheduled back-to-back hearings on July 23 and 24. Both forums will be 7:30-11 p.m. in the auditorium at Hood River Valley High School.

“Whatever the length of presentation given by Wal-Mart, we’ve offered Citizens for Responsible Growth (CRG), as the organized opponents, the same amount of time,” said Mike Benedict, county planning director.

He said the first evening will be dedicated primarily to reports from varied officials. He said the first presentations will be given by staff, Wal-Mart and CRG. Those comments, expected to take about 90 minutes, will be followed by remarks from the Oregon Department of Transportation and other involved local and state agencies. Once these speakers have been heard from, Benedict said the floor will be turned over to members of the public. He said each individual is expected to be given three minutes to air his/her view of the application.

Testimony will continue on the second evening as residents weigh in on Wal-Mart plans for a 185,000 square foot store. The retail giant is seeking to build on 16 acres of commercially-zoned property at the junction of Frankton and Country Club roads.

Amy Hill, Wal-Mart spokesperson, believes the company has adequately addressed the key issue of “compatibility.” She said Wal-Mart has added landscaping and rustic building features to make the large-scale building barely visible from along Interstate 84 and the upper parking lot of the Columbia Gorge Hotel. Hill said although the applicant has sought to alleviate concerns about this issue, the proposed site is already zoned for retail use — and can’t be compared to neighboring residential properties of a much smaller size.

“While certain elements of this design have been used in other places, a lot of things have been pulled together to make Hood River a unique store,” Hill said.

CRG contends that Wal-Mart’s changes to the exterior of the structure have still not subtracted from its overall mass — much larger than any other retail enterprise in Hood River. In addition to arguing against its compatibility, the group believes construction of the new Wal-Mart and 12 acre parking lot will generate numerous problems. These include traffic snarls, flooding to adjacent properties from stormwater runoff, and harm to the riparian area around Phelps Creek, which runs through the property.

“We don’t feel they’ve satisfactorily addressed those issues,” said Kate Huseby, CRG spokesperson. Following next week’s hearings, the Commission could approve or deny Wal-Mart’s application.

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