Citizens are celebrating — again — in Gresham, Oregon today. Sprawl-Busters reported on December 10, 2006 that Wal-Mart had decided to appeal the 57-page decision of Hearing Officer Joe Turner, rejecting a proposed supercenter. Turner’s decision said that the developer, PacLand, “failed to sustain the burden of proof that the car trip distribution estimates for vehicles leaving the site are accurate… ” A combination of the developer’s insubstantial traffic impact data, and the citizen group, Gresham First’s, expert traffic analysis, left the Hearing Officer without solid evidence that the impact on this intersection would meet the city’s traffic standards. Many other issues were raised, but as the Hearing Officer noted, “Opponents of the proposed development raised a number of other issues including, but not limited to, potential environmental impacts, increased crime, visual impacts, tree removal and impacts on the locally economy and businesses. Those issues were not raised in the Notice Of Appeal and therefore are beyond the scope of the appeal.” Wal-Mart appealed the Hearing Officer’s decision to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, stating, “We do not agree with the hearings examiner’s decision on traffic.We feel that, if traffic is viewed under normal conditions, our traffic study and plans are a good fit for the area.” But the LUBA only sent the case back to the Hearing Officer, who today rejected Wal-Mart’s plans a second time. Turner said that Wal-Mart still failed to “sustain the burden of proof” about their assumptions on traffic. He said specifically, Wal-Mart failed to demonstrate that traffic from the development wouldn’t exceed minimum levels under city code. Here is the report from the frontlines sent to Sprawl-Busters by Gresham First: “Wal-Mart’s proposal to build a Super-Center is southwest Gresham was denied today by Hearings Officer Joe Turner. In April, the Land Use Board of Appeals “remanded” the decision back to the City of Gresham, asking Turner to more thoroughly explain his denial. This reaffirms his November 16, 2006 decision that denied the application due to traffic and safety concerns in our neighborhood. Please visit our website at www.greshamfirst.org/walmart.htm to view the City of Gresham Press Release and the complete Hearings Officer decision. Traffic was certainly the most alarming factor in the proposal and prompted our group to raise funds for an independent traffic engineer. Greenlight Engineering was hired to analyze the existing traffic conditions and the proposed development impacts, which are the basis for today’s denial. Much thanks to Rick Nys at Greenlight Engineering for his hard work and dedication to keeping our local roads safe. We also hired a land-use attorney from Seattle, David Bricklin, who has extensive experience fighting large-scale developments in residential areas. After the staff approval in July, David has been instrumental in turning our case around and securing today’s victory. Most of all, thanks to all those neighbors and business owners who were involved in the process, from signature-gathering to rummage-sale organizing. We should be proud of our accomplishments in educating neighbors, raising funds for expert assistance, and contributing to a record-breaking number of comments received during the public review process. Because of your dedication, this project was scrutinized carefully by professionals as well as residents who use the local transportation system, and the decision will be very difficult to overturn. Wal-Mart now has 21 days to file an appeal to LUBA, Oregon’s State Land Use Board of Appeals.
This battle illustrates the importance of using legal and subject matter experts in presenting the citizen’s case. In Gresham, it was traffic and legal. In other cases, it might be wetlands. But technical expertise was critical in making the case that this project did not meet the city’s traffic requirements. Gresham First is likely to see an appeal by Wal-Mart to the LUBA. The group now has a secure link on its website www.greshamfirst.org for any Sprawl-Busters readers who wish to make a credit or debit card donations. Or, you can write a check payable to “Gresham First” and send to Gresham First, 4233 SE 182nd #317, Gresham, Oregon 97030. For earlier stories on this case, search Newsflash by “Gresham.”