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The Observer paper 12/24/14

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Anyone under the assumption that Wal-Mart will always get its way once it decides it wants to build a store need only look around Oregon. Cities all across the state are standing up to the world's largest retailer due to concerns about the impact superstores would have on traffic, neighborhoods and zoning. La Grande and Island City officials will soon be weighing in on similar issues.

After more than a year of rumors and debate about Wal-Mart wanting to build a superstore overlapping the boundaries of La Grande and Island City, the company has filed an application to begin the siting process. The company wants to build one of its one-stop, all-inclusive grocery and shopping centers on a site across Island Avenue from its present store.

The process is sure to generate more debate as the company tries to justify an expansion of urban growth boundaries for commercial purposes. Planning commissioners and elected officials will need to give the application serious review. Justifying expansion of the UGB — especially considering the area's stagnant growth rate, available commercial properties and lack of industrial and residential-zoned lands — will be an extremely hard case to make. The onus is on Wal-Mart to do just that.

In Hillsboro, Wal-Mart was unable to make the case for a superstore due mostly to traffic and design concerns, but the city council unanimously accepted the planning commission's denial of the application based on nine reasons. Wal-Mart is in the process of deciding whether to appeal to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals

In Oregon City, the planning commission said Wal-Mart failed to show why the city needs more commercial land and more retail services and didn't address potential traffic problems. The city council there will hear an appeal in September. If the council agrees with the planning commission, Wal-Mart will have to decide whether to appeal to LUBA. Wal-Mart is also facing opposition, based on land-use issues, in Hood River, Lebanon, Salem and Central Point.

In Union County, the issue will be about whether the UGB should be expanded for commercial purposes. As emotional as the issue has been since word first surfaced that the company was considering La Grande for a superstore, including the impact a megastore would have on existing retailers, emotion can't be figured into the process. Wal-Mart will have to show why La Grande's land-use plan should be changed to accommodate a retail expansion. The community's existing commercial area isn't exactly over-stored. Only somebody with blinders would think otherwise. Even the most optimistic population projections — especially considering actual trends over the past five, 10 and 20 years — can't justify an expansion, and certainly not for retail development.

Wal-Mart can't bully its way through Oregon's land-use process — not if local officials have the guts to look at the facts.


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