Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Court rules in favor of Wal-Mart"

From today's Daily Evergreen:
Court says appeal did not provide sufficient evidence to overturn examiner’s

A judge ruled Wednesday in favor of Wal-Mart, rejecting an appeal filed by citizens attempting to stop construction of a store in Pullman. Whitman County Superior Court Judge David Frazier decided the appeal did not provide sufficient evidence to overturn the city hearing examiner’s February approval of the construction. The Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development filed in March an appeal of Hearing Examiner John Montgomery’s decision to allow the Wal-Mart plans to move forward. On Wednesday, Frazier ruled Montgomery’s findings were supported by “substantial evidence in record,” that he correctly interpreted the legal principles involved, and that PARD failed to prove the findings were clearly erroneous.

The group will decide within the next few days whether to appeal the ruling to the Washington State Court of Appeals in Spokane, PARD Legal Liaison T.V. Reed said.

Frazier said PARD raised legitimate concerns, but the court’s role was limited in this case. His job was to determine whether the hearing examiner made legal errors, rather than weighing the evidence and facts of the decision itself, he said.

“If I disagree with what he said, that does not matter,” Frazier said.

During more than two hours of oral arguments, PARD attorney David Bricklin said the group’s burden of proof was to show the city failed to fully examine Wal-Mart’s impact. Frazier disagreed, ruling that the group had to provide actual evidence to support its claims.

CLC Associates, the firm developing the Pullman Wal-Mart, hopes to begin construction next spring.

Wal-Mart first announced its intent to construct a store off Bishop Boulevard in October 2004. The 223,000-square-foot building would be across the street from Safeway.

Concerned residents formed Pullman/People Against Wal-Mart Supercenter in early 2005, with a goal of keeping the retailer out of the city. PAWS later changed its name to the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development. The group claims the store would pose numerous environmental and traffic problems for the area. It also argues existing businesses would face a serious threat from a low-price retailer such as Wal-Mart.

A year ago, residents on the other side of the debate formed their own group, Businesses and Residents for Economic Opportunity. BREO members argue Pullman is losing a significant amount of sales revenue to Moscow and other areas, and Wal-Mart would help keep that money in town.

“We hope that PARD decides to end their appeals now,” BREO cofounder Tom Forbes said. “Over the last two years, this process has divided residents, distracted city government and cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. The Pullman community wants closure.” In February, the city hearing examiner determined that Wal-Mart would not have a significant environmental impact. PARD appealed his decision to Whitman County Superior Court in March.

Frazier sent the case back to the hearing examiner over the summer for clarification on the decision. He listened to the latest arguments on the matter during Wednesday’s hearing. An attorney for the City of Pullman also presented arguments in favor of Montgomery’s decision.
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