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2006-11-16
Gresham, OR. Wal-Mart Defeated on Traffic Issues

Sprawl-Busters began writing about Gresham, Oregon almost two years ago. The retailer's plans to put a store in this city probably seemed like a sure shot at first, but after nearly two years of citizen opposition, the company must be feeling a little black and blue. Today, the group Gresham First, which has led the opposition to Wal-Mart, released the following statement regarding Wal-Mart's latest setback: "Wal-Mart's proposal to build a 121,877 s.f. supercenter in southwest Gresham was denied today by Hearings Officer Joe Turner. After receiving initial approval from City of Gresham staff in July, three neighborhood associations joined Gresham First in an appeal of the decision. A hearing was held on September 27 before a standing room only crowd. After two years of dedicated effort from residents, we are pleased with the Hearing Officers's decision to reject the latest proposal for a Wal-Mart at 182nd & Powell Boulevard. Community concerns included the impact of a Supercenter on existing traffic problems, pedestrian safety, and environmental pollution of nearby trails and streams. The planning process carefully weighed all aspects of the proposal, including community concerns and development needs, and found that the site was truly incompatible for a development of this size. Traffic was certainly the most alarming factor in the proposal and prompted our group to raise funds for an independent traffic engineer. Greenlight Engineering was hired to analyze the existing traffic conditions and the proposed development impacts, which are the basis for today's denial. Much thanks to Rick Nys at Greenlight Engineering for his hard work and dedication to keeping our local roads safe. We also hired a land-use attorney from Seattle, David Bricklin, who has extensive experience fighting large-scale developments in residential areas. After the staff approval in July, David has been instrumental in turning our case around and securing today's victory. Ben Schonberger of Winterbrook Planning provided excellent technical arguments based on zoning and design elements. Most of all, thanks to all those neighbors and business owners who were involved in the process, from signature-gathering to rummage-sale organizing. We should be proud of our accomplishments in educating neighbors, raising funds for expert assistance, and contributing to a record-breaking number of comments received during the public review process. Your contribution of time, energy, and hard-earned money to our campaign is much appreciated. Because of your dedication, this project was scrutinized carefully by professionals as well as residents who use the local transportation system, and the decision will be very difficult to overturn. Wal-Mart now has 21 days to file an appeal to LUBA, Oregon's State Land Use Board of Appeals. The City of Gresham will be required to defend the hearings officers' decision in the event of further appeal. Gresham First and local neighborhood associations may file as an "intervenor" or interested party, however the LUBA review does not allow any new evidence or testimony. LUBA historically does NOT overturn City-level decisions against Wal-Mart." In his 57 page decision, Hearing Officer Joe Turner said that the applicant, PacLand, "failed to sustain the burden of proof that the car trip distribution estimates for vehicles leaving the site are accurate, given the appellants' travel time analysis and the lack of substantial evidence to the contrary from the applicant. Therefore the hearings officer cannot find that the applicant's traffic models, which are based on this trip distribution assumption, are sufficiently accurate to demonstrate that the SW Highland Drive/W Powell Boulevard/SE 182nd Avenue intersection will comply with the City's intersection operational standards with additional traffic generated by the proposed development." In other words, a combination of the developer's insubstantial traffic impact data, and Gresham First's expert traffic analysis, left the Hearing Officer without solid evidence that the impact on this intersection would meet the city's traffic standards. The denial was based on very technical traffic issues. Many other issues were raised, but as the Hearing Officer noted, "Opponents of the proposed development raised a number of other issues including, but not limited to, potential environmental impacts, increased crime, visual impacts, tree removal and impacts on the locally economy and businesses. Those issues were not raised in the Notice Of Appeal and therefore are beyond the scope of the appeal."

What you can do: The Hearing Officer did leave the door open a crack by allowing PacLand to submit a revised application within one year with a "revised transportation analysis utilizing trip distribution assumptions consistent with the appellant's travel time estimates and resubmit the application pursuant to this provision." The Hearing Officer also responded to the many people who testified that people in Gresham did not want this store. "Many members of the public testified that the City should deny the application to "respect the wishes of the community," the Hearing Officer wrote. "Such testimony misunderstands the law. The best way to protect all of the public is to enforce the laws consistently. To give special consideration to a limited class of people violates the due process rights of all. The owners and developers of the site are entitled to equal protection of the law. The hearings officer is obligated to apply the plain meaning of the law when it is not ambiguous. Citizen input is relevant and important in determining whether and how the application complies with the applicable approval criteria. Existing residents often have unique knowledge due to their experience living in the area. However the Code does not require community approval of the application. This is not a popularity contest. The hearings officer must approve the application if it does or can comply with the law." Wal-Mart can appeal this decision, or it can come back with more traffic studies. Either way, these battles are not over until the fat company sings. For more information, visit the website http://www.greshamfirst.org/WALMART.htm, and for earlier stories, search Newsflash by "Gresham."










 
 
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