In early January, the Hood River, Oregon, County Commission voted 3-2 to reject Wal-Mart’s application to build a 186,000-square-foot supercenter.
"This was a marvelous and gutsy decision by the board," said Kate Huseby, co-chair of the Citizens for Responsible Growth (CRG), a grassroots group that has fought the proposal in this community of 5,000 people in north central Oregon for more than two years. "We applaud them for doing their homework, and making the tough vote."
The County Commission gave two reasons for its vote. One was that the supercenter, at more than seventeen times the size of any building in the area, would be incompatible with the surrounding neighborhood. County zoning rules require commercial buildings to conform in "height, bulk and scale" to nearby properties.
The commission also concluded that Wal-Mart had failed to demonstrate that the supercenter, which would be located in a floodplain, would not cause flooding downstream. Engineers hired by the city and CRG uncovered numerous mistakes in the company’s floodplain plan. "I found several errors that I, as a lay person, could see and understand," Commissioner Carol York said. "That did not give me much confidence in the information they were giving us."
Wal-Mart already has a 72,000-square-foot store in Hood River. It planned to close the store, as it has done with hundreds of others nationally, once the new supercenter opened.
When the company’s plans first surfaced two years ago, a group of Hood River residents formed CRG and persuaded the city and county to adopt ordinances limiting commercial buildings to no more than 50,000 square feet. The caps are designed to protect the community’s livability and its vibrant downtown.
The size limit, however, did not apply to Wal-Mart’s supercenter application, which had already been submitted and thus had to be considered under existing zoning rules. Wal-Mart has 21 days to appeal the county’s decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
Once the Wal-Mart fight is behind them, CRG members plan to continue their community work as the Hood River Civic Forum, which will host educational events around a variety of local issues.
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