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Wal-Mart wins land-use hearing

Issue heads back to Gresham's hearing officer

Wal-Mart's stubborn effort to build a store at an unpopular site in Gresham was rewarded Thursday, April 5, when the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals sided with the conglomerate in its dispute with the city and neighbors.

Board members remanded the application by the nation's largest retailer back to Joe Turner, Gresham hearing officer. Turner has twice ruled against Wal-Mart, which wants to build at the intersection of Powell Boulevard, 182nd Avenue and Southwest Highland Drive. The company and the Hollybrook, Southwest and Centennial neighborhood associations, which are fighting Wal-Mart's effort, both appealed Turner's latest decision to LUBA.

The associations and city officials contend the intersection is one of Gresham's most dangerous and that a 120,000-square-foot retail store would only add to congestion.

In the February LUBA hearing, Wal-Mart countered that Turner's denial ignored the company's traffic studies in which stoplights would be coordinated. The city and the company differ over which street customers would use to exit the parking lot after shopping.

Greg Hathaway, the Oregon attorney for Wal-Mart, said his client was pleased with the ruling.

'LUBA basically ruled in our favor,' he said. 'Now we can get this one technical, transportation issue resolved. Based on the issue, it is resolvable.'

Wal-Mart's application meets all of the city's transportation standards and mitigates for all of the impacts, Hathaway said. He said city transportation officials, and to some extent, Turner himself, determined that Wal-Mart had 'met all the tests, met all the mitigating standards.'

Turner said Friday, April 6, that he would make a decision on how to proceed, including whether to hold another hearing, next week. Turner and Gresham city attorneys weren't surprised by the LUBA board's ruling.

'It could have gone either way,' Turner said, adding that he needs to study the ruling to see exactly how to proceed.

Board members decided it wasn't clear if the traffic issue affected Turner's decision, said Dave Ris, a city attorney.

'I wasn't surprised that they came to this conclusion,' he said. 'I suggested that the hearing officer's decision wasn't based on that understanding. LUBA said it wasn't stated clearly.'

City Councilors have 19 days to decide whether to appeal LUBA's ruling to the Oregon Court of Appeals, although Rick Faus, senior assistant city attorney, said he didn't expect the city to follow that path.

'The next step is to discuss those kind of issues with council, likely in executive session,' he said. 'I would say it's unlikely that the city would appeal the ruling.'