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Settlement with neighbors clears obstacles to Walmart expansion
It’s been almost seven years since the Walmart in Port Orchard started its quest to expand from a regular retail store to a super center, but the process finally appears to be nearing a resolution.
On May 25, the Kitsap County Hearing Examiner heard details on the recently signed settlement between the giant retailer and its neighbors along Bethel Avenue.
Walmart Stores, Inc., requested site plan approval from Kitsap County to expand its existing 103,485-square-foot retail store by adding a 105,551-square-foot grocery component for a total of 209,036 square feet.
The request was granted by the examiner in October 2003 -- subject to conditions.
The conditions were imposed as a result of local residents’ complaints regarding how the expansion would affect them.
As part of this week’s settlement, Walmart agreed to maintain an 80-foot greenbelt between its operations at the adjoining residential properties -- less than the current 150-foot no-build zone, but not as much less as the company had been proposing.
“This is the most important issue for us,” said neighboring property owner Bill Huntington. “The 150-foot greenbelt that separated us from the store was why we purchased the lot and built our house in the first place. Then we were being told that isn't the case and we’d end up having delivery trucks backing up to our backyard.”
According to Huntington, the county confirmed the greenbelt when they purchased the lot.
The Huntingtons, along with 17 other homeowners who reside directly behind the store, had serious issues with the existing Walmart and were upset at the expansion approval.
The residents already object to the noise level throughout the night from employees, delivery trucks, parking lot sweepers and large flood lights that illuminated their property.
“They weren't good neighbors to begin with, so why would we want them expanding the problem?” Huntington asked. “We called them many times about the noise. Some of our neighbors have kids that couldn't get to sleep at night, but every time we contacted them they had a new manager and the whole process would start all over again.
“When they throw those wooden pallets in the middle of the night,Huntington said, “there is a really loud bang and it scares you.”
One of the requirements was for Walmart to bring in a noise expert to do a study and determine if there was a significant impact.
The store’s expert found there was no impact whatsoever.
Ryan Vancil, attorney for the Huntington's and neighbors, brought in another noise expert, Jerry Lilly, who disputed the previous study and argued there was, in fact, a significant noise impact.
The matter was taken to the Kitsap County Board of Commissioners, which sent it back to the hearing examiner for clarification.
Walmart's expert eventually agreed with Lilly about the noise level and the store agreed to not only comply with the conditions, but to make efforts to ensure the noise level would not be a future issue.
“This is partly the reason this matter has taken so long to resolve,” said Vancil. “You have noise experts doing there studies that take months to complete.”
The other condition was the large lights streaming into neighbors homes all night long. Walmart conceded on that point as well and agreed to lower the light poles.
“This is a big win for us,” said Vancil. “We got one of the largest retailers to reduce the size of their expansion and to mitigate the noise and light impacts.
“They are going to construct a wall and add rooftop hardware to decrease noise,” Vancil said, “restrict deliveries between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., reduce the size of their store from 105,551 square feet to 85,310 and lower their light poles to 25 feet.
“It was a good result in the end,” he said, “and hopefully they will be a better neighbor than they were before.”
“We’re not a bunch of ogres who want to stop growth,” Huntington said. “We just want them to be respectful and to be a good neighbor.”
According to Vancil, the hearing examiner should issue the final decision within 30 days.
Walmart Senior Manager for Public Affairs Amelia Neufeld said, “Our customers have been telling us for years that they would like to see the convenience of one-stop shopping at their local Walmart store, with the ability to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables along with their everyday household items.
“The Walmart store expansion in Port Orchard is expected to create 50 to 100 new jobs for the community,” she said, “as well as help provide economic stimulation to the local economy and help generate additional sales tax revenues for the city. We greatly appreciate the longtime support of the local community and city as we move forward with the next steps of this project.”