Wal-Mart move looms on county

Hood River County Commissioner Carol York declared Nov. 19 that a pending Wal-Mart building application constituted an economic emergency.

She moved unsuccessfully to enact a temporary ordinance that would limit the size of commercial stores within the county to 50,000 square feet for the next 61 days.

During that time period, York said officials would have the opportunity to review the "big box" restrictions recently enacted by the city. Under a formal agreement made in 1997, the county is slated to adopt a compatible plan within the next few months.

"I think we have an obligation to be consistent with city requirements," said York.

She made the motion, which died because it was not seconded, after receiving confirmation at Monday's meeting from Scott Franklin, Wal-Mart representative, that a formal application was going to be filed in the immediate future. If that plan is submitted before the county has its building size restrictions in place, Wal-Mart will have a "grandfathered" right to build a 185,000 square foot retail store on a little more than 16 acres at the junction of Frankton and Country Club Roads.

"What we would ask is that Wal-Mart not be treated any different than any other applicant coming through the county," said Franklin.

York joined the outcry by almost 100 members of the Citizens for Responsible Growth who crowded the third-floor courtroom on Nov. 19 to outline the devastating effects that a super center would have on smaller Hood River businesses and the rural character of the community.

Kathy Watson, spokesperson for the group, said the county's Home Rule Charter allowed passage of an emergency ordinance; an emergency is defined by the dictionary as a sudden and unexpected occurrence which brought a long-term negative consequence.

"We argue that massive commercial development, now or in the future, on any county commercial land, does indeed violate the town's small-town character and detracts from quality of life. And most importantly, does nothing to increase the number of family-wage jobs," read Watson from her written testimony.

However, Will Carey, county land-use attorney, said that instituting an emergency land-use decision without following due process could open the county for legal challenges. He said under Measure 56, passed by the Legislature in 1997, property owners affected by zoning changes had to be given at least a 20 day notification and an opportunity for comment. He said that law was intended to stop land-use changes from being railroaded through the system.

In addition, Carey said state law and county administrative policy mandated that land use changes be reviewed first by the planning commission. He said proper protocol was to have that expert body bring a recommendation before the county board for its consideration. To not follow that process could also create legal problems, according to Carey.

"It's a dilemma, I can see certainly the argument for what's being proposed but I also have concerns over what's being proposed," he said. "I think from a purely legal standpoint that we're compelled to give that notice."

For several minutes before York made her motion, the process to legally fast-track either an emergency ordinance or the standard hearing process for building size limitations was being worked out between the board and staffers.

When her proposal died that discussion resumed and the county board scheduled a special meeting for 4 p.m. today in the second floor conference room. At that forum, David Meriwether, county administrator, will present possible timelines to either adopt an emergency interim ordinance or move forward on the permanent "big box" code.

Meanwhile, to prepare for either course of action, Planning Director Michael Benedict mailed out notices today for an upcoming hearing (time and date not available at press time on Tuesday) to property holders in the area proposed for the Wal Mart structure.

York and the citizens group said their intent was not to specifically target Wal-Mart, but Carey said that without addressing that particular application it would be difficult to justify emergency action or fast tracking of the commercial building size code.

Last week the Hood River City Council nixed the idea of taking immediate steps to annex the Frankton/Country Club property which lies within its urban growth area. Once incorporated into the city limits, it would be subject to the municipality's new building size limitations and stronger design codes.

"I certainly don't want to see this as a way to block Wal-Mart, I think it it's more of a way to have an ordinance set in place in which a development occur under our standards as opposed to no standards," said Cindy Walbridge, city planning director, at the Nov. 13 council meeting.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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