Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"PARD Loses Wal-Mart Appeal"

Michelle Dupler had a well-written, in-depth and balanced article on the denial of PARD's appeals in last Saturday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Super center one step closer to reality in Pullman; Hearing examiner adds two traffic light conditions

The verdict on Pullman’s proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter is in.

Other than two conditions regarding traffic lights, Hearing Examiner John Montgomery on Friday approved Wal-Mart’s site plan.

He upheld Public Works Director Mark Workman’s determination of non-significance regarding Wal-Mart’s environmental checklist, finding “no credible evidence” that a Wal-Mart would cause urban blight. During three days of public hearings, members of the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development argued that it would.

“It’s what I expected,” Workman said. “We really did do an awful lot of work in going through this process. Really, I think it’s a good decision.”

Wal-Mart submitted its application to build a 223,000-square-foot store and 1,000-car parking lot on Bishop Boulevard in October 2004. Local residents formed PARD in January 2005 to oppose the retail giant’s plan.

Workman issued the determination of non-significance on Wal-Mart’s State Environmental Policy Act checklist Aug. 25. The DNS is a finding that the store will have no significant impact on the surrounding environment. His decision approving Wal-Mart’s site plan was delivered Sept. 22.

PARD appealed both decisions, alleging the Wal-Mart store will have serious negative effects on the environment, traffic and Pullman’s economy.

Both the city of Pullman and Wal-Mart defended the site plan and SEPA checklist during three days of public hearings, arguing the documents met all applicable standards.

Montgomery based his decision on testimony by the public and expert witnesses, along with volumes of written evidence and comments on issues including traffic, stormwater drainage, noise and light pollution and urban blight.

Montgomery could have denied the application outright — meaning Wal-Mart would not be allowed to build in Pullman — if he had found the evidence in the record didn’t support the city’s decision, said City Attorney Laura McAloon.

Instead, Montgomery chose only to require the completion of a traffic signal at the intersection of Bishop Boulevard and Fairmount Road before Wal-Mart can obtain an occupancy certificate for the store. Montgomery also is requiring the installation of a traffic signal and a right turn lane at the intersection of Bishop Boulevard and Professional Mall Boulevard before Wal-Mart can open a gas station that may be built some time in the future. The gas station is not part of the plans Wal-Mart submitted to the city.

Either of those options may cost the city more money than it planned, McAloon said. The traffic signal at Bishop Boulevard and Fairmount Road will cost about $160,000, Workman said. Wal-Mart offered to pay 20 percent of the cost, but Montgomery found this amount was not in proportion with the traffic Wal-Mart will generate at the intersection. He did not say whether Wal-Mart’s contribution is too high or too low.

The city applied for a grant from Washington’s Transportation Improvement Board to pay its share of the cost of the traffic signal. That application was denied.

“Other funding options will need to be explored,” Workman said. He doesn’t know what those options might be.

McAloon suggested one possibility may be for the city to seek additional funding from Wal-Mart for the traffic signal. Wal-Mart will end up paying a greater share for the traffic light at Grand and Fairmount.

The presence of a bridge over the South Fork of the Palouse River at the intersection of Bishop Boulevard and Professional Mall Boulevard makes the requirement for widening of the road and installation of a traffic signal at that location challenging, Workman said.

“We need to look at it a little more,” he said.

Montgomery allows for waiver of the requirement for improvements at Bishop Boulevard and Professional Mall Boulevard if Wal-Mart performs another traffic impact analysis of the intersection after the store opens.

PARD members have argued for more than a year that a Wal-Mart store in Pullman will drive away other businesses and create urban blight in the city. They repeatedly have called for the city to commission an independent fiscal impact study that would examine the possible economic effects a Wal-Mart would have on Pullman. PARD members argued such a study is required by SEPA.

“Economic impact is not, in and of itself, an element of the environment under SEPA,” Montgomery concluded. “No credible evidence exists to suggest that urban blight will result from approval of the proposal under SEPA. The mere suggestion of such does not establish a significant environmental concern requirement preparation of a Final Impact Analysis under SEPA or a fiscal impact analysis.”

That confirms what many Pullman residents have argued all along, said Tom Forbes, a Wal-Mart supporter and member of Businesses and Residents for Economic Opportunity.

“Not only does evidence not exist to support the idea of urban blight, we believe evidence exists (Wal-Mart) will stimulate the Pullman economy,” Forbes said. “Now that approval has come, we think we’ll start to see new businesses announced.”

PARD also raised concerns about light pollution and stormwater discharge. Montgomery found Wal-Mart adequately addressed those issues in its application.

Numerous residents made arguments during the public hearings that Wal-Mart’s proposed location adjacent to the Pullman Cemetery may have a negative impact on the atmosphere at the cemetery. There was some question whether the boundaries of the store site overlap the cemetery’s original boundaries.

Montgomery found no evidence to suggest graves would be disturbed by construction of the store, but required that construction must stop if any human remains are found.

The decision can be appealed to the Whitman County Superior Court by the city, Wal-Mart or PARD within 21 days. Appeals must conform to guidelines set forth in Washington’s Land Use Petition Act, McAloon said.

Neither the city nor PARD could say Friday whether they might appeal.

“We’re not ruling out any alternatives,” said PARD spokesman Christopher Lupke. I'm sure they're not.

Representatives for Wal-Mart could not be reached for comment.

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1 comment:

April E. Coggins said...

Thank you, Michelle Dupler. I couldn't have asked for a more balanced and accurate story. The decision was released at 4:58 p.m. on Friday and her deadline was 7:00 p.m. the same night. I think she did a superb job covering all sides on short notice.