County sets hearing on expanded Wal-Mart

The Hood River County Commission will convene on Dec. 17 to consider an emergency ordinance to stop construction of a Wal-Mart super center -- at least temporarily.

The interim code would require that all commercial buildings within the county be no larger than 50,000 square feet, the size recently approved by city officials. The temporary regulation would automatically be repealed after 61 days, which county officials believe is enough time to get permanent building size limitations in place.

The county board is being urged by a grassroots citizens group to adopt the emergency ordinance and then "fast track" the permanent model before Wal-Mart files its formal application. If development plans are submitted by the national chain under current zoning, it will have "grandfathered" rights to build a 185,000-square-foot retail store on 16 commercial acres at the junction of Frankton and Country Club roads.

According to the county's Home Rule Charter, immediate action can be taken "to meet a public emergency affecting life, health or property." On Nov. 19, Commissioner Carol York announced that the pending Wal-Mart application constituted an economic emergency, alleging it would adversely impact many of Hood River's smaller businesses.

However Mike Benedict, county planning director, said even if Wal-Mart does file an application before officials take action, the company has to meet the "burden of proof" to show that it can mitigate a complexity of traffic and wetland concerns, as well as comply with design and landscaping criteria to eliminate the "big box" look.

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