Final Wal-Mart decision slated for February

Faced with a mountain of argument and rebuttal, the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners has decided to delay a final decision on two Wal-Mart expansion proposal appeals until February.

At least a dozen people — reportedly mostly Safeway and Albertson’s workers — packed the commissioners’ chambers Monday morning to hear whether Wal-Mart would be allowed to add a 105,000-square-foot grocery element to its existing 103,000-square-foot store on Bethel Road.

Safeway labor representatives have testified in the past that such a move would result in the demise of Safeway — located immediately north of Wal-Mart — and possibly other stores in the area.

Residents living immediately east of Wal-Mart have also complained the expansion would make the neighborhood unliveable by exacerbating current problems the neighbors say they have with excessive light and noise coming from Wal-Mart’s parking lots and loading dock.

The residents, headed by Bill and May Ann Huntington, have filed an appeal of the county hearing examiner’s decision to let the expansion move forward as proposed.

The Huntingtons, who hired a lawyer to argue their appeal, say the noise and light from Wal-Mart keeps them up at night and will only get worse after the building moves closer to their property. In addition, they said, a grocery element would significantly increase the number of trucks entering the loading dock, which will come within 60 or so feet of their property line after the project is complete.

The Huntingtons bought their home after Wal-Mart first opened in 1995 and said they understood some aggravation was part of living so close to a large retail store. However, they said Wal-Mart has refused to consider its neighbors when scheduling deliveries, trash pickup, lot cleaning and other noisy activities.

In addition, the Huntingtons said, the store has made no effort to control its employees after hours — maintenance crews reportedly yell, crash carts, throw pallets and engage in other unnecessarily disruptive activities and have not altered their behavior despite numerous calls to Wal-Mart officials and even 911.

“(The Huntingtons) will be irreversibly harmed by the impact of the project,” said Ryan Vancil, the Huntingtons’ attorney.

Wal-Mart’s attorney, John McCullough, said the hearing examiner has already included noise and light restrictions in his conditions and extended the mandatory monitoring period from six months to one year.

He said such a move would be more than sufficient to make sure Wal-Mart complied with noise regulations.

With regard to the light issue, McCullough reminded the commissioners the expansion plan called for replacing all the existing lighting with fixtures that would result in almost no off-property spill. In addition, he said, no evidence had ever been introduced to prove Wal-Mart’s expansion would result in economic “blight” as defined by state law.

“There’s nothing in (any of these plans) that suggest you should be choosing one commercial business over another,” McCullough said.

In addition to the Huntington’s appeal, Wal-Mart filed its own appeal of the hearing examiner’s findings. McCullough claimed the appeal was intended to find clarity in the issue of who was responsible for implementing the examiner’s findings and conditions.

However, Vancil argued the appeal was actually an attempt to work around noise mitigation requirements.

Commissioner Chris Endresen asked several questions about the proposal, focusing largely on enforcement and the project’s compliance with the Bethel Corridor Plan. She said there was evidence the project was in conflict with the plan and also appeared to have issues with the way Wal-Mart defined open space in its proposal.

“You’re counting parking lot landscaping as open space and buffers?” Endresen asked.

Commissioner Jan Angel, who represents South Kitsap, said she already had her questions answered by staff but still wanted more time to review the mass of information presented. The commissioners plan to make a final decision on the two appeals at their regular meeting Feb. 9.

The Huntingtons, leaving the commissioners’ chambers, were optimistic about the decision.

“At least we got another two weeks,” Mary Ann Huntington said.

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