Wal-Mart expansion on hold

Citing numerous problems with the Kitsap County Hearing Examiner’s findings, the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners on Monday remanded the examiner’s decision on the proposed Wal-Mart expansion back to his office for further review.

County Hearing Examiner Stephen Causseaux, Jr., on Oct. 9 conditionally granted Wal-Mart’s request to double the size of its Bethel Road store in order to add a grocery component. The store’s residential neighbors to the east filed an appeal of that decision, claiming Wal-Mart had not adequately addressed the issues of noise control and off-site impacts.

The county commissioners appeared to agree.

“There are some issues that I think (the hearing examiner) needs to take a look at again,” said Commissioner Jan Angel, who represents South Kitsap.

Commissioner Chris Endresen, following up Angel’s remarks, presented an extensive list of areas in which she felt Causseaux either contradicted himself or downplayed important conflicts between Wal-Mart’s plan and county codes. She focused particularly on areas of the examiner’s report that acknowledged current problems with noise but didn’t — Endresen said — adequately address them.

“I don’t see, if (there are currently problems), that we expect a larger store to create less noise,” she said.

In addition to the noise issue, Endresen was concerned with elements of Causseaux’s findings that called for a year of noise monitoring to make sure the mitigation measures worked. She pointed out the county only had three code enforcement officers and, because most of the problems appeared to be at night, having the county respond to complaints would result in short-staffing during the day.

Angel backed up Endresen’s list of issues and said she wanted a more in-depth study of light spillage to be done as well. The final vote to remand was unanimous.

John McCullough, Wal-Mart’s legal representative, did not appear dismayed by the ruling. He said he understood the importance of the noise issue and said the new store would give Wal-Mart designers the chance to start fresh with more effective noise mitigation.

“We will re-examine (the issues discussed),” McCullough said. “I think we have a clear list from the commissioners.”

He said although there is not firm timeline for construction of the expansion, he said the company would like to get started as soon as possible. McCullough said he hopes to come before the hearing examiner this spring and have the rest of the application process wrapped up shortly thereafter.

Mary Ann Huntington, who filed the appeal along with her husband, Bill, saw the commissioners’ decision as a clear victory.

She said the vote to remand showed the commissioners were taking seriously not only her concerns, but the concerns of all South Kitsap residents. In addition to noise issues that affect her neighborhood, in her appeal Huntington said there was reason to believe the expansion would cause urban blight by forcing other grocery stores out of business. She also said there remains the issue of protecting residential development from encroaching commercial development.

The commissioners’ choice, Huntington explained, opens up a new opportunity to have all those issues addressed.

“You can see the tears in my eyes — I’m just so overwhelmed,” she said.

Safeway labor representative Paul Festag, who also attended the commissioners’ meeting, was not so optimistic.

He said he has serious concerns for the health of Safeway — which abuts Wal-Mart — and other area groceries should the expansion finally be approved.

Although he couldn’t speak for Safeway management, Festag said a Super Wal-Mart — one with a grocery element — will almost assuredly undercut Safeway’s customer base and force the store to close. When Safeway goes, he continued, the stores it “anchors” in its strip mall will likely go under as well.

“There won’t be any need for a Bethel Corridor Plan,” Festag said. “No one’s going to be driving down it.”

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