The state Shorelines Hearings Board has dismissed an appeal and given the go-ahead for Walmart to expand its store at the Olympic Gateway Mall in Aberdeen, possibly ending a two-year battle over the potential expansion.
The Friends of Grays Harbor had successfully appealed the expansion before the Shorelines Hearings Board last summer. The board kicked the permit back to the city for a do-over.
But when the city re-approved the permit back in January — with a few modifications from Walmart to improve access to the waterfront trail and the general landscape — the Friends of Grays Harbor decided to take the case back to the Shorelines Hearings Board to review those changes, arguing very little had been done.
On Thursday, Aberdeen City Attorney Eric Nelson said that he had received notification that the Hearings Board had granted a summary judgment motion to dismiss the appeal and decided not to move forward with hearing dates that had been slated for June.
Nelson said that the city must still approve building permits for Walmart, but the case before the Shorelines Hearings Board settled land-use questions.
Walmart wants to expand its operations into a full-scale grocery store, deli and bakery. The proposed building will grow from an existing area of 121,053 square feet to 156,995 square feet, complete with a new front area. Walmart already has been making some changes to accommodate the expansion, including now operating 24 hours a day and providing fresh produce.
Nelson said that the formal opinion from the Shorelines Hearings Board has yet to arrive. Once it does, the Friends of Grays Harbor will have 21 days to take the case next to Superior Court.
Linda Orgel, with the Friends of Grays Harbor, said that the group is still exploring its options.
“We’re just disappointed and we have been disappointed from the beginning,” Orgel said. “We’re disappointed that the Port allowed the sale to move forward and never allowed the public to give real input. We’re disappointed the City of Aberdeen gave permits in a way that didn’t allow public input. Even after we won our appeal, Walmart said it would sit down with the public and talk about our waterfront, but that never happened, either.”
The Port of Grays Harbor did conduct a public hearing when it sold the land in July of 2010, but the word “Walmart” was never mentioned in any advance meeting notifications and hardly anyone attended the meeting. The City of Aberdeen never conducted a public hearing on the permit, relying on a long-existing Grays Harbor Estuary Management Plan that doesn’t require public hearings to take place. Only written public comment was accepted.
In his campaign for re-election, Mayor Bill Simpson said he would support changes to the city’s shoreline master program that would include more public involvement. State law requires it to be updated by 2014.
Orgel said she hopes to hold Simpson to his campaign pledge.
“Even with a public hearing, we may have had the same result as what we have today, but at least the public would have been more involved,” Orgel said.
“Our shoreline is so important and we hope the city will sit down with all of us to figure out the best way to be transparent and open,” Orgel added. “What happens to our shorelines are important decisions that impact a lot of people’s lives and shouldn’t be relied on an estuary plan that hasn’t been updated in decades.”