Planning commission formaly denies Wal Mart expansion request, City Council review scheduled for Dec. 12

December 3, 2011

On Nov. 29, the four planning commission members who crafted the Nov. 22 decision on Walmart's application (to expand and remodel) voted to approve their "Findings and Decisions" order from that meeting.

The Nov. 29 ruling formalized the commission's denial of a requested 30,000-square-foot expansion by the store while approving other remodeling proposals.

On Nov. 28, anticipating an appeal by Walmart of the planning commission's pending ruling, the Hood River City Council voted to review the planning commission decision.

That review, scheduled for Dec. 12 at 6 p.m. at the Board of Commissioners meeting room, will be an on-the-record public meeting - allowing councilors to review documentation and issue a determination.

Although the public will be allowed to testify Dec. 12, according to City Planner Cindy Walbridge, no new evidence will be entered into the record. Testimony may only reiterate or ask questions about the existing record.

City councilors will have the option to accept, deny or modify the planning commission's Nov. 29 decision in total or may address any single component of that decision.

Walbridge, along with City Manager Bob Francis and City Attorney Dan Kearns, met with Walmart attorney Greg Hathaway and representative Scott Franklin on Nov. 30 regarding their intent to appeal.

Given the city council's action to review the planning commission's ruling, Walmart opted not to appeal the Nov. 29 decision.

If Walmart disagrees with the city council ruling on Dec. 12 however, it may still file an appeal, elevating the case to a review by the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

According to city council by-laws, there must be a minimum of four out of seven consenting votes to pass any rulings at the Dec. 12 meeting. The council will have the option to overturn all or part of the planning commission's order with that majority.

City councilors are now charged with sorting through the public testimony, legal documents and planning commission findings to arrive at their own ruling.

In the planning commission's public deliberations prior to its ruling, commissioners Laurie Stephens, Nathan DeVol and Casey Weeks concurred that the original planning commission only approved a 72,000-square-foot building and made no provision for the expansion to 102,000 square feet.

Nikki Hollatz, the one dissenting vote against denial, cited the site plan drawing attached to the 1991 Walmart application as reason for approval, noting that it included a "future expansion" area notation on the site drawings in addition to the 72,000-square-foot-building.

In the Nov. 29 decision order, the planning commission also responded to additional questions about "vested" rights for Walmart. All four commissioners agreed that Walmart would meet the "Holmes" test for vested rights.

Obtaining vested rights would allow Walmart to expand under the original land use laws in place during 1991, prior to their now non-conforming use status.

Vested rights may only be claimed if the planning commission or the city council (under appeal) were to determine that Walmart was originally approved for the expansion in 1991. The Nov. 29 planning commission's slated decision denies that this approval ever occurred.

Other details on specifics related to proposed Walmart exterior remodeling and facility site changes were outlined by city staff in the 27 page planning commission "Findings and Decision" order, available for public review at the City of Hood River's planning department.

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