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Wal-Mart approval still in limbo

Gresham OK'd a smaller Wal-Mart, but opponents hope a hearings officer will overturn the city's decision.

Wal-Mart opponents have fought for nearly two years to keep this retail giant out of Gresham. Now they're preparing for what could be their final skirmish.

On Wednesday, Sept. 27, a Gresham hearings officer will hear testimony from the city of Gresham, which recently approved the 115,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter, and from the retailer's opponents, who say the store will cause traffic problems; hurt nearby ecosystems; and have dire economic consequences.

GreshamFirst, a nonprofit group that opposes the Wal-Mart development, stated the group is confident 'that the hearings officer will agree that the safety risks in this design and the volumes of anticipated traffic make the risk too high for both vehicle and pedestrian accidents.'

According to a traffic analysis conducted by Kittelson and Associates, the firm hired by Wal-Mart, the Supercenter would add nearly 600 new cars to the surrounding area during Saturday's busiest afternoon hour.

This is nearly half the number of new trips the originally proposed 220,000-square-foot Supercenter - denied by city planners last year - would have generated, but Wal-Mart opponents say the additional traffic will still overtax the system.

Of particular concern is the intersection at Powell Boulevard and 182nd Avenue, which is one of Gresham's deadliest intersections.

Submitting plans for a smaller Supercenter may have passed muster with city staff, but Wal-Mart opponents contend that the 115,000-square-foot store will attract just as many shoppers as a 220,000-square-foot Wal-Mart.

'The proposal was changed from mammoth to huge,' GreshamFirst stated in a press release. 'Our group does not believe that reducing the square footage alone will change the draw significantly.'

Not the first appeal

As anyone who has followed the Gresham Wal-Mart saga knows, this isn't the first time a hearings officer has presided over a Wal-Mart appeal hearing.

In fact, when it comes to Wal-Mart, it seem that there's always someone willing to challenge the city's decisions.

First, it was the retail giant itself.

When the Gresham denied Wal-Mart's application to build a 220,000-square-foot Supercenter last year, the retailer appealed.

Gresham Hearings Officer Joe Turner heard more than seven hours of testimony and later upheld the city's ruling that a Wal-Mart center of this size would cause heinous traffic problems, especially at Powell and 182nd Avenue.

Wal-Mart could have appealed Turner's decision to Oregon's Land Use Board of Appeals.

Instead, the company fought back a different way. They went ahead and purchased the 11-acre parcel - formerly home to one of two defunct Gresham QFCs - and submitted plans for a smaller store.

At nearly half the size of the original Supercenter, Wal-Mart predicted the smaller store would pass the city's inspection.

They were right.

In July, nearly one year after denying the original 220,000-square-foot Supercenter, Gresham planners approved the half-sized version.

This time, Wal-Mart opponents were on the offensive. GreshamFirst, along with three neighborhood associations, appealed the city's decision.

Hearings Officer Joe Turner will consider the groups' appeal on Wednesday, Sept. 27.

If the hearings officer upholds the city's decision, Wal-Mart opponents may take their fight to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals.

IF YOU GO

What: Gresham Hearings Officer Joe Turner will consider an appeal of the city's decision to approve a 115,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter near the corner of Powell Boulevard and 182nd Avenue.

When: The hearing begins at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27.

Where: Gresham Council Chambers, 1333 N.W. Eastman Parkway, Gresham.

At issue: Would a scaled-down Wal-Mart Supercenter still present a danger to pedestrians and drivers on nearby roadways?