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Residents, Developers Air Cases North Side Neighbors Question Rezoning For Wal-Mart Center

Developers bent on bringing a Wal-Mart-anchored shopping center to north Spokane argued Wednesday that conditions have changed so dramatically around the Newport Highway that big stores are more appropriate than new housing.

But residents who will live next door to the 40 acres of shopping and parking argued with equal conviction that a massive shopping center would make a bad neighbor.

“We are not on an anti-Wal-Mart crusade, but people have the right to be able to rely on the comprehensive plan when making an informed decision about buying a home,” said Karen Barniol, head of Citizens for Neighborhood Preservation.

Developers of Pine Water Plaza are asking county hearing examiner Michael Dempsey to rezone a 40-acre triangle west of the Newport Highway and north of Hawthorne Road to allow a large shopping center with Wal-Mart as its centerpiece.

Developers say the county’s comprehensive plan at this time is only advisory, merely a blueprint.

After a full day of listening to testimony from various experts, developers, neighbors and Wal-Mart employees, Dempsey asked for 30 days instead of the usual two weeks to announce his decision.

The land is zoned UR 3.5, which allows 3 houses per acre. The wooded acreage is bordered on two sides by subdivisions including Camelot, College Place and Carriage Hills.

Colorado Land Consultants, the developer, wants the land rezoned to B-3, community business, the most intense commercial zoning in the county.

The land is owned by Pente Limited Partnership, which includes the Nelson family.

The Nelsons owned the property for almost 40 years, and ran a landscape nursery and landscape design business there.

Colorado Land Consultants came to the hearing armed with full-color computer simulations, aerial photographs and a team of experts.

Area neighbors held garage sales, bake sales and passed the hat at meetings to raise money for their battle.

The two sides traded shots over traffic, noise, lighting, landscaping, economic benefits to the county and employment opportunities.

Steve Wilson, president of CLC, painted a picture of a shopping center that would be football fields away from the neighborhood houses, surrounded by lush trees and protected from traffic.

“You will not be able to see this shopping center from these subdivisions,” he said.

A landscape architect for the development team said 320 trees around the perimeter would be saved.

But neighbors countered by pointing out the clear-cutting that was done to build nearby Fred Meyer.

Neighbors said they doubt landscaping will be much more than bare county minimums, and certainly inadequate to buffer noise or looming parking lot lights.

“When there’s a cloud cover, I can already read at night by lights from NorthPointe Plaza,” said a College Place resident.

The Pine Water Plaza project was proposed at the same time as the Valley Wal-Mart two years ago. The Valley store has been open since summer.

The North Side Wal-Mart would be a twin to the Valley store: a 130,000 square-foot store, including a car service center.

It would be the centerpiece of Pine Water Plaza, which would also include an 80,000 square-foot building, two 20,000 square-foot stores, and two small, possibly fast food-sized buildings.

Wal-Mart officials initially said the store would be open 24 hours, but backed off recently, reserving the right to change their minds later.

The project could be built within a couple of years, Wilson said.

Traffic is a key issue.

Kathleen Krager, the developer’s transportation engineer, said in an earlier interview that the plaza would lure 1,137 new-car trips an hour during peak evening traffic. But on Saturday afternoons, peak shopping time, the number of car trips to the plaza would jump to 1,900.

Krager said $500,000 in planned road improvements to Newport Highway, Hawthorne and Nevada would improve traffic flow.

Residents said Krager’s studies don’t take into consideration the traffic that will be generated by the new Home Depot under construction at the Division Street Y.

Scott Brown, a planning consultant with Community Development Services, is working for the neighborhood group. He said he doubts a half-million dollars will buy much in the way of road improvements.

“Have you checked the price of traffic signals lately?” he asked.

Neighbors also argued that the developers should have applied for a comprehensive plan amendment, rather than the zoning change.

Amendments are considered by the planning commission instead of the hearing examiner, and includes a county-wide perspective.

“We shouldn’t even be here today,” Barniol said.

Almost 150 people filled the hearing room in the morning, including Wal-Mart employees wearing yellow Smiley Face stickers. The crowd dwindled by afternoon.

Tanja Bogart, who said she loved shopping at the store so much that she went to work there, performed part of the Wal-Mart morning cheer.

Another employee, Sherry Scott, became almost teary as she recounted the good work Wal-Mart does in communities.

“Give us a chance and find out what we’re all about,” she said.

But neighbors repeated they aren’t opposed to Wal-Mart on the North Side.

“Wal-Mart is a great store, we want one here, just not at that site,” said Walter Knopp, who happens to own “a good commercial site right across the street that’s not tied up.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT County hearing examiner Michael Dempsey asked for 30 days instead of the usual two weeks to announce his decision.

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT County hearing examiner Michael Dempsey asked for 30 days instead of the usual two weeks to announce his decision.