Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

"Moscow city councilors reject rezone request"

From today's Lewiston Tribune:
Opponents of a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter here won an initial skirmish Monday night after members of the Moscow City Council rejected a request to rezone 77 acres where the store might be built.

But the battle is likely to continue.

The 3-2 vote can be appealed. And the Gene Thompson family, which owns the ground in the southeast corner of town, can make a new request.

"Sounds like we've got a pretty good idea that some is acceptable," said family spokesman Ted Thompson, alluding to council indications that a request to rezone a lesser amount of property might be acceptable.

"Take this in its pleasantness and come back with something we can enjoy," Councilor John Dickinson said after the vote was taken. In addition to Dickinson, Councilors Aaron Ament and Bob Stout voted against the rezone. Councilors Bill Lambert and John Weber favored the rezone. Councilor Linda Pall, who was ill and in the hospital, had already recused herself from voting because of a possible conflict of interest.

The Thompsons wanted the entire 77 acres rezoned from agriculture-forestry to motor business, a designation that could have opened the door to a number of big box retail stores on the site.

John C. McCullough, the Seattle attorney who represents Wal-Mart, said after the vote that between 30 and 35 acres is generally needed to build a supercenter, depending on configuration. He said he'd talk with Wal-Mart officials and the Thompson family before any new direction might be pursued.

Ament, who made the motion to reject the request, said he opposed the rezone for a number of reasons, but mainly because the acreage is not in the right place to encourage new retail development. He said the west side of town, where Wal-Mart already has a store, is more appropriate.

Stout agreed. "I'm sure about two things tonight," Stout said. He said he was certain that 77 acres of new motor business property was "too much," and that he didn't know just how much land was appropriate.

"This issue is not about private property rights," Stout said. "It's not about the Thompson family or the No Super Wal-Mart group."

When Dickinson joined the discussion by mentioning Wal-Mart, Mayor Nancy Chaney interrupted and said, "Just to remind you though, we're not talking about ..., we're talking about a rezone now." From the beginning of the debate earlier this year, Chaney has refused to let the rezone issue become a debate about Wal-Mart and the store's name has been prohibited.

Weber said he favored rezoning the entire 77 acres because the action would establish a much-needed site where retail development could expand. He said the city has enough ordinances, like it's new big box store ordinance that puts conditions on size, to shape retail development.

Lambert sided with Weber. "This is a parcel of land that's going to take a number of years to develop," he said. "We have measures in place that can control how development occurs."

The council's action came after the city's planning and zoning commission recommended rejection of the rezone. City staff, however, recommended rezoning "a significant portion," according to a report.

The land was annexed by the previous council and designated for extensive commercial development. Word of Wal-Mart setting its sights on the property started last year after a preliminary development proposal submitted to the city showed a Wal-Mart Supercenter and two other big box stores, along with other retail outlets, on the site.

The council's vote came after more than four hours of testimony two weeks ago at a public hearing. Because the action can be appealed, City attorney Randy Fife advised councilors to refrain from talking to anyone about the vote until the appeal period ends.
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