Hood River Wal-Mart wants to expand

November 5, 2011

Walmart's request to expand its Hood River store received measured support from Hood River City Planning Department staff.

Three people from the public spoke in support and three in opposition at Tuesday's Planning Commission hearing.

Walmart wants to add 30,000 square feet to the east side of the existing 72,000-square-foot store, built in 1991. Walmart wants to add a new grocery section, along with doing extensive interior and exterior site improvements. The expansion would not mean additional parking.

Because the zoning had been changed from commercial to light industrial in 1997, and grocery stores are not an allowed use under the revised zoning, it is up to Walmart to prove it has what is known as a "vested right" to build for this purpose.

"It's a tricky application," said Planning Director Cindy Walbridge, who handled Walmart's application as staff planner in 1991. Walmart must establish vested rights in addition to passing the planning commission's site review.

On Nov. 22, the commission will hear concluding testimony from the applicant, and is scheduled to meet again on Nov. 29 to make a recommendation to city council. The proposal must be acted upon by Dec. 31.

Among other testimony, Project Manager Scott Franklin presented a petition in support of the application, signed by 1,100 shoppers, including 350 people identified as Hood River residents.

"I want to see Walmart in there," said Eugene Birch of Hood River, who said he and his wife want to avoid their monthly grocery trip to Troutdale Walmart.

Rick Hutchinson of Mosier, a Hood River native, said his wife works at Walmart and the company provides good wages and benefits, and the expansion would add more job opportunities.

"Walmart deserves this expansion," Hutchinson said.

Steve Curley, of Underwood, said he is concerned about congestion caused by the store expansion.

"What will be the impact on traffic with an expansion this big?" he asked. Curley said the Walmart pledge to put up $450,000 for a stoplight at Rand and Cascade "is a drop in the bucket for a multibillion-dollar company. Walmart needs to find a bigger spot to build. Expansion is not a positive move for the city of Hood River," he said.

Nick Kraemer, of Odell, said the proposal is specifically excluded under current zoning, and pointed out that Walmart's investments in the property "are not toward groceries.

"From a common sense perspective, it does not pass the test," Kraemer said.

Franklin and the company's attorney in the case, Gary Hathaway, argued that Walmart made it clear in its 1991 application that it intended to add 30,000 square feet to the facility, and that its location in the middle of the property makes it clear that it wanted to expand all along.

"If Walmart had not intended to expand, it would have positioned the store farther to the east," Franklin said.

Walmart would need to add utility lines to serve the expanded space, but otherwise the water and sewer lines are sufficient to handle the expansion, Walmart officials noted and city officials confirmed.

City Attorney Dan Krause noted that the 1991 site plan does mention expansion by 30,000 feet in addition to a 5,000-square-foot "pad" that is not part of the new request.

According to Krause, "the original use was allowed, development was embarked upon, development proceeded and the question is, was it far enough that the applicant has acquired a vested right to complete it?"

Hathaway said, "We are entitled to expand; we have always felt we have the right to do so."

Architect Scott Franklin described an enhanced interior that will feature additional windows; the main entrance moved south to the center of the building, awnings, multiple colors, and "curvilinear roof lines" to reduce the existing box-like feel.

"Our flavors have changed since 1991," Franklin said.

Hathaway commented that Walmart still owns property on Country Club Road where it had tried in 2005-06 to get permission build a superstore, a proposal supported by the county planning commission but turned down by a vote of the board of commissioners.

"People told us then, 'expand your existing store,' and that is what we are doing here, following that advice. We want to expand the store," Hathaway said.

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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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