WAL-MART EYES AREA FOR SUPERSTORE

December 26, 2001 11:00 pm
SLOW MORNING: Wal-Mart cashier Minet Neuhart stands ready to help customers returning merchandise Wednesday morning. Lines were unusually slow the day after Christmas. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).
SLOW MORNING: Wal-Mart cashier Minet Neuhart stands ready to help customers returning merchandise Wednesday morning. Lines were unusually slow the day after Christmas. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

The deal isnt set in stone and there are a lot of ifs, but predictions are that Wal-Mart will build a superstore in La Grande.

If all goes as predicted, the store will sit on property owned by Mike Becker on the north side of Island Avenue, across the railroad tracks from the existing store. The building will be in La Grande, and the parking lot and satellite shops will be in Island City.

One question is when? Before construction can begin, the two cities urban growth boundaries must be expanded and an area transportation plan written to assure adequate access to the complex. The property, which lies in Union County, is surrounded by the two cities, and the county and the cities have agreed on proposed urban growth boundaries.

The county was finishing an application for a state grant to help pay for a study of transportation and other issues related to the development when the consultants walked in, said Union County Planner Hanley Jenkins.

The consultants representing Wal-Mart are CLC Associates Inc. of Spokane. Dean M. Logsdon, the CLC representative who has met with city and county officials, was out of town and could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Jenkins said the consultants have scheduled information meetings on Jan. 15 and 24 and Feb. 5 for area landowners and others involved in the planning. The times and places of the meetings have not been announced.

They are the consultants meetings theyre not county meetings, he said. These are pre-meetings to the public hearings; mainly to let the May Park people know whats going on.

May Park is a residential area west of the proposed development.

Another question is if.

Mike Hyde, La Grande city planner, said Wednesday that expanding La Grandes urban growth boundary may not be possible.

A recent study showed that theres no need for additional land, he said. The city has enough land for development (inside the existing city limits). The challenge will be to justify expanding the boundary. It will be up to the cities to determine if this is a good thing.

Hyde said at least one city councilor, Steve Clements, opposes expansion.

Others are taking a wait-and-see attitude, he said.

In order to expand the urban growth boundary, the city must amend its comprehensive land-use plan, a step that requires the

city to notify the state Department of Land Conservation and Development.

They (the state) can object to the process, Hyde said. Its not a foregone conclusion.

Any agency or person who objects to the process and testifies during the original hearings may appeal the decision to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.

This can take a long time, Hyde said.

Jenkins said that expanding the urban growth boundary could be based on the propertys location. An attempt to develop the property into three-acre rural residential lots came to a halt more than a year ago when the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality denied septic approval on 11 of the 15 proposed lots. Any development depends on city water and sewer services.

Expanding the urban growth boundary will be only the first step in the superstores development. The City of La Grande will not provide services to property that has not been annexed into the city limits, another step that requires public hearings and a comment period.

Wal-Mart superstores in other areas include groceries, tires, oil and lube service, an optometrist, a beauty salon and expanded electronics, in addition to the inventory at the Island City store.

One commercial building is already going up near the proposed Wal-Mart location. Trico, a plumbing supply company, is on a one-acre commercial site within the Island City urban growth boundary. The site had been zoned a few years ago when a plant nursery was built.