Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Frazier rejects PARD appeal; Superior court judge upholds decision by hearing examiner"

Here is Michelle Dupler's last Daily News story about Wal-Mart. She's moving on to the Tri-Cities after today.
About 30 people [Many of those Wal-Mart supporters] waited in silence Wednesday for Whitman County Superior Court Judge David Frazier to enter the courtroom, where he would decide whether Wal-Mart could build a store in Pullman.

Three and a half hours later, they had their answer.

Frazier dismissed the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development’s land-use appeal against the city of Pullman and Wal-Mart, clearing the way for a super center on Bishop Boulevard.

Frazier considered the arguments of attorneys for Wal-Mart, the city and PARD on issues such as traffic and the proposed store’s effect on the local economy.

Ultimately, he found there weren’t sufficient grounds to overturn a decision by Hearing Examiner John Montgomery that upheld the city’s approval of Wal-Mart’s site plan and environmental checklist.

“Frazier clearly indicated that there are substantial unresolved issues of fiscal impact and traffic safety, but that he could not rule on those issues,” PARD member T.V. Reed said in a prepared statement. “What he is saying in effect, is that under current Pullman law those issues need not be addressed.”

“PARD disagrees with the hearing examiner, and by extension Judge Frazier in their narrow interpretation of city and state codes,” Reed continued. “But the larger issue is clear: Pullman’s laws do not give citizens real choice about the nature and degree of development.”

PARD has been critical of residents’ lack of a role in deciding whether Wal-Mart builds in Pullman since plans for the store were announced in October 2004. PARD members asked the city to conduct public meetings on the project, but the city refused because it was concerned about appearing to violate the state law that allows only one public hearing on a development project.

Pullman City Attorney Laura McAloon defended the city’s process during the oral argument Wednesday.

“The city of Pullman looked at this application over and over again ... and thoroughly evaluated it for more than a year,” McAloon said. “The city’s process has been very thorough, very transparent and very public.”

PARD got its chance for a public hearing after it appealed the city’s approval of Wal-Mart’s environmental checklist and site plan. Montgomery presided over three days of testimony in January. In February, he issued a ruling upholding the city’s decisions.

PARD appealed that decision to Whitman County Superior Court. Frazier presided over an initial appeal hearing in June. At that time, he ordered Montgomery to revise his decision and shore up his conclusions with more thorough reasoning and evidence.

Frazier’s role in the appellate process was limited. He could not come to independent conclusions about the evidence or base his decision on the merits of Wal-Mart itself.

“The issue isn’t do we want a Wal-Mart or do we not want a Wal-Mart, or is Wal-Mart good or is Wal-Mart bad,” Frazier said.

PARD has argued the Wal-Mart store would have significant detrimental impacts on the local environment, including traffic conditions, stormwater runoff, and noise and light pollution. The group also believes Wal-Mart would hurt the local economy by driving out small businesses and putting more people onto state-provided social services.

PARD’s questions and concerns are valid, Frazier said.

“I don’t see where (Montgomery) found any issues raised by PARD were frivolous or without merit,” Frazier said.

He nonetheless found PARD had not presented a strong enough case to overturn Montgomery’s ruling.

The ruling was supported by sufficient evidence and was not “clearly erroneous,” as would be required for the appeal to succeed, Frazier said.

PARD has the option to appeal to the Division III appellate court in Spokane. Reed said the group will meet with its attorneys today to decide whether to continue its fight.
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1 comment:

April E. Coggins said...

The thing to remember about any further appeals that PARD may file is that from now on, they do not have the right to a hearing. In order for the Appeals Court to grant another hearing, PARD must convince the court that their case has merit. The PARD attorneys will have to cite specific laws that they feel were overlooked or erroneously applied. If yesterday's hearing was everything that PARD has, they have no merit. I don't believe the Appeals Court will hear their case.
But I wouldn't mind watching them spend the money to try! lol