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Wal-Mart, foes take Gresham case to state board

Appeal will be decided March 22

Wal-Mart lawyers on Thursday told the state Land Use Board of Appeals that the city of Gresham's rejection of its application was based on insubstantial evidence, the company's latest attempt to build at a high-traffic intersection.

Attorneys for the city and the citizens' group Gresham First told the board that Wal-Mart was denied because the company was basing traffic projections on erroneous statistics concerning 'trip distribution.' The issue concerns how much traffic the store is projected to generate and how those vehicles will enter and exit the site.

The Centennial, Southwest and Hollybrook neighborhoods were also represented at the 90-minute hearing Thursday, Feb. 22, in Salem. Wal-Mart officials appealed to the three-member board after Gresham's hearing officer, Joe Turner, twice ruled against the company. The latest denial was in November 2006.

Wal-Mart has been trying for two years to build a store at the intersection of Powell Boulevard, 182nd Avenue and Southwest Highland Drive. It is one of Gresham's most dangerous intersections.

The company's 'model for future traffic flows wasn't accurate,' said David Ris, a Gresham city attorney who argued before the board. Specifically, the Wal-Mart opponents say the company's travel-time estimates were flawed.

In fact, the city's brief that was filed with the board of appeals says Turner was 'unable to find any evidence in the record that (Wal-Mart) conducted travel time analyses to confirm its trip distribution assumption.'

Officials with Wal-Mart's developers, PacLand, believe customers would leave the site using Southwest Highland Drive, instead of West Powell Loop, in order to save time. Turner said there was no evidence to support that.

The brief also argues that the intersection is near its capacity in the evenings, and 'any increase in the number of northbound left turns on Highland Drive may cause the left-turn queue to exceed the capacity of the turn lane.'

That would cause vehicles to back up into the through-traffic lanes, jamming up the road.

Wal-Mart doesn't agree with that assessment, maintaining that the site is the best place.

The Land Use Board of Appeals has until Thursday, March 22, to release its decision. But that may not be the end of it: Either side can appeal the board's decision with the Oregon Court of Appeals.