A game of legal tennis ended earlier this week with the Albany City Council tentatively approving plans for a Costco Wholesale store – complete with gas station – on the former Linn County fairgrounds off Pacific Boulevard.

The council’s qualified but unanimous approval was an accommodation to legal objections by Costco opponents. The council will wait until its Sept. 13 meeting to make a final decision so opponents will have time to present more arguments.

The unanimous vote came after a rousing game of legal maneuvering by attorneys representing Costco, an opposition group and the city.

Wallace Lien, attorney for Friends for Responsible Progress, had reportedly tried to delay Wednesday’s decision by claiming new evidence had been introduced by Costco for which he needed time to respond. At the council meeting, however, which Lien did not attend, Costco presented a motion asking to remove all of the information in question from the record.

The council approved the motion, making Lien’s objection to the new information “moot.” The council then rejected Lien’s motion and tentatively approved the project. They’re giving a closer look to part of Lien’s original argument, however.

A central part of Lien’s original objection was so-called “ex-parte” contact – any communication that represented a one-sided view of the issue, such as personal conversations and e-mail messages. Articles and editorials regarding Costco in the Democrat-Herald were also ex-parte, Lien said, citing a 1993 state Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) case.

To give Lien and other parties a chance to respond, the council tentatively approved Costco’s plan while also giving opponents an opportunity to speak before the council. They will get that chance Sept. 13 prior to the council’s final decision.

Costco is asking the council for permission to use a modified site plan, previously approved, to build a 148,000-square-foot warehouse store and 16-pump gas station on the former Linn County fairgrounds off Pacific Boulevard.

If final approval is granted Sept. 13, the next step for Costco will be to finalize its construction plans and apply for a building permit, Frank said after the meeting. Once a building permit is issued construction will start in full force, with a projected opening of next summer. Appeals to LUBA, however, could delay that schedule.

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