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Council faces confusion, frustration during first night of Wal-Mart hearings

Different design standards for the Cedar Mill site worries some

Confusion - and a little bit of frustration - about design standards marked the first night of Beaverton City Council's hearings on a proposed Cedar Mill Wal-Mart store.

During 5½ hours of staff reports and testimony on the proposed project, city councilors peppered planners, proponents and opponents with questions about traffic plans, zoning and design requirements and Cedar Mill's future.

At the heart of some of the councilors' questions was a feeling that design standards for the proposed Wal-Mart were uneven and a little bit confusing.

Councilors who had to digest 8,342 pages of information on the issue (about 7,900 if the blank pages are removed) expressed concern about the project's reliance on Washington County transit-oriented zoning and application of 'comparable' city design standards.

Councilor Catherine Arnold asked city planners to prepare a side-by-side comparison of city and county design requirements for the project. The analysis should be completed in time for the council's second hearing tonight.

'We should be able to say 'Here's the guidelines' and 'Here's where they match and here's where they don't,' ' Arnold said.

City councilors began wrestling Monday night with the Wal-Mart issue. The council is hearing two nights of testimony on an appeal by the citizens group Save Cedar Mill of a city Board of Design Review approval of the Wal-Mart application.

PacLand of Milwaukie wants to build a 152,308-square-foot Wal-Mart store as part of the Town Square Too project on nine acres at the busy intersection of Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard and Barnes Road.

The site was annexed into the city in February 2005. It retained Washington County's transit-oriented development zoning, with city planners using Beaverton standards that came close to matching the county's requirements.

The city has not yet re-zoned the property.

Board of Design Review members approved the application June 1, expressing some of the same frustrations with the design requirements. Save Cedar Mill appealed, sending it to the council.

Monday's hearing was the first of two on the proposal. The second is tonight, 6:30, at City Hall, 4755 S.W. Griffith Drive.

About 130 people jammed into the Forest Soth City Council Chambers for the hearing. Nearly 50 people signed up to testify, but most would not get a chance to speak because the council cut the hearing off at midnight.

A decision on the issue could be made in the next few weeks. Members of Save Cedar Mill have asked the council to keep the official record open for seven days after tonight's hearing, which could push a decision into August.

During Monday's hearing, Portland attorney Greg Hathaway, who represents Wal-Mart, urged the council to reject the appeal and allow PacLand to build the project.

'I think it's safe to say that this application is the most scrutinized application in the history of the city,' Hathaway told the council.

The Board of Design Review heard much of the same argument against the project, and approved the application, he said.

'It's important for Wal-Mart to be in this community,' Hathaway said. 'We think we've done a good job of designing a good store for this community.'

Opponents, however, said the council should reject the project because it didn't meet the county's design criteria. They also contended that it would create a 'monster' eight-lane intersection that would scare away pedestrians and jam with traffic in an area about to explode with growth.

Robert Bernstein, a Seattle traffic engineer working for Save Cedar Mill, said plans to expand the Cedar Hills Boulevard/Barnes Road intersection to accommodate the Wal-Mart store would fail because it was built on assumptions that defied common sense.

'Every single assumption included in the applicant's proposal would have to be spot-on to make it work,' Bernstein said, calling the traffic mitigation plan a 'house of cards.'