Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Sunday, February 03, 2008

"Clarkston Wal-Mart plans steaming ahead"

Meanwhile, kookless Clarkston will have a Wal-Mart Supercenter summer after next...

From today's Lewiston Tribune:
Wal-Mart could open across the street from Costco in Clarkston by June 2009.

That's the prediction of Jim Martin, Clarkston public works director, who has been working with the nation's biggest retailer on its plans to open a super center there.

Much is taking place behind the scenes, even though little activity is happening at the proposed 26-acre site on Fifth Street that has yet to be purchased by Wal-Mart, Martin says.

Consultants with the big-box chain continue to follow the schedule that's been developed in communication with city officials and has been happening for about a year, Martin says.

Wal-Mart has completed a traffic study. Comments about the study are due soon from the Washington Department of Transportation and the architecture and engineering firm USKH, Martin said.

The city of Clarkston hired USKH with money from the Lewis-Clark Metropolitan Planning Organization, Martin said.

The city will look at the information provided by all those parties and then negotiate with Wal-Mart about what kinds of changes it will require.

City building officials also will be sending out notices to agencies such as the Department of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife as part of following the State Environmental Policy Act. Those agencies will be invited to comment on any additional pollution Wal-Mart might create, such as more lighting, noise and car exhaust. The city might request additional mitigation based on those remarks, Martin said.

But Martin doesn't expect any of those steps in the process will present major obstacles. The property is located in a zone that allows big-box stores and he's not aware of any significant environmental issues. "The consultants for Wal-Mart do not leave any stone unturned. They've been going over the property with a fine-tooth comb."

Once Wal-Mart gets its building permit, which could be as early as June, Martin expects it will take between 12 and 18 months to complete. "This isn't their first time at the prom. So I don't imagine it will be a slow process."

Opening super centers in other communities has taken longer.

Wal-Mart has discussed seeking a super center site in Lewiston since at least 2001, but any steps the retailer has made toward that goal have never been made public.

In Pullman, Wal-Mart has acquired 28 acres in the 400 block of Bishop Boulevard. Plans for a super center there were first announced in October 2004, said Pete Dickinson, city planning. But plans for the store continue to be stalled in litigation.

Three judges in Washington's Division III Court of Appeals in Spokane heard arguments in the case on Dec. 19. Typically the judges take three to six months to issue their opinions, according to an employee in the office of the court's clerks.

The case involves an appeal by the Pullman Alliance for Responsible Development of an initial decision by the city of Pullman to allow the super center.

Wal-Mart also examined opening a super center in Moscow, where it already has a discount store. But that idea was put on the back burner because it found the city's process for a proposed site too cumbersome.

The recent shift in Moscow's city council doesn't seem to have changed Wal-Mart's stance. "We'd still like to serve our customers there with a super center, but at this point, it's kind of on hold," says Karianne Fallow, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart in Boise.

Farther north, in Hayden Lake, the process has been complicated too. City Manager Jay Townsend estimates Wal-Mart has been working on its plans for at least five years.

Initially Wal-Mart wanted to locate on two parcels of land, but only one of them was zoned for the development. The city denied a request to rezone one of the parcels after a packed public hearing, and Wal-Mart went back and redid its design so it could use a single parcel, Townsend says.

Doing so is costing Wal-Mart hundreds of thousands of dollars in mitigation, such as replacing a sewer lift station that has to be moved and creating an additional travel lane on U.S. Highway 95, Townsend says.

The city of Hayden also successfully negotiated with Wal-Mart to make the facade of the store tan and brown with rock veneer instead of the standard gray with red, white and blue. The idea is to blend with the rustic flavor Hayden Lake is trying to develop as part of a revitalization project. "We wanted something that was going to fit within the community itself," Townsend says.
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