Council has what it needs to deny Wal-Mart application


(Soapboxes are guest opinions from our readers, and anyone is welcome to write one. Steve Kaufman is the chair of Save Cedar Mill.)

On August 7, the Beaverton City Council will make a historic decision: whether or not to allow the construction of a Wal-Mart in Cedar Mill. Their choice will shape the destiny of the Cedar Mill community - oddly enough not a part of the City of Beaverton, but which will nonetheless be dramatically affected by the outcome of the council meeting.

To the thousands who have joined Save Cedar Mill, the folly of this application is so obvious. Between the monster-sized intersection, the 24-hour store operation, and the thousands of new cars converging on the area every day, this land use action threatens to destabilize the safety, quality, and serenity of our homes and businesses.

We watched, baffled, as the Beaverton city staff rubber-stamped its approval of this project, badgering the Board of Design Review into submission and sidestepping every valid argument presented by Save Cedar Mill. Everyone affected by this development understands there is far more at stake here than whether or not the letter of every code is met. The very livability of our community hangs in the balance. Yet, city staff seems unsympathetic and completely disinterested in this - and sending chills through Cedar Mill in the process.

From the beginning of this process, we've been troubled by the notion that a city can annex a piece of property in the middle of a community, announce the intention of building a huge mega-store, then say, 'I have to approve it. It meets code.' Yet, this is exactly what staff has done.

In taking such a narrow view, they have acted completely contrary to Beaverton and the mayor's chief goal of creating a livable, vibrant community. Planning trumps code - especially with projects like this that have such far-reaching implications for the region.

Let's take a moment and reiterate the grounds on which we object to this plan. Wal-Mart has done nothing to meet the purpose and intent of the transit-oriented zoning. Wal-Mart has ignored the applicable design principles in favor of their needs to have only one main entrance for security purposes or to have the Wal-Mart retail floor space located on a single, massive floor. The primary building entrances are oriented to the parking areas, not the street. Their only attempt at pedestrian orientation is to include architectural features, such as building articulation, materials, and landscaping, which are pasted on to the outside of their big box. It's like putting lipstick on a pig.

The Barnes Road frontage does not have a pedestrian orientation because it is dominated by blank walls and views of the parking garage, and not active, habitable space. Even their much-celebrated retail building turns out to be nothing more than a strip commercial building that will be turned to the parking lot with locked doors along Barnes Road.

The Cedar Hills Boulevard frontage is required to have buildings that are oriented to the sidewalk such that the surface parking lot is not the dominant element. Plain and simple, this application fails because it's a single use dominated by cars.

Does the City Council have the discretion to consider planning over code? Former Metro Chief Mike Burton and Rep. Brad Avakian both advised the council that they have broad discretion and that they should exercise it. Combined with the overwhelming technical evidence submitted by Save Cedar Mill on the numerous places where this application fails, the council has what it needs to deny this application.

Wal-Mart claims that it cares about our community. Their track record in cities and towns across America undeniably proves the opposite is true. The Peterkort family has no stake in the future of Cedar Mill. Most of them don't even live in Oregon anymore. And their traffic engineer testified in open session that circulation will actually improve once the store goes in. This so defies logic and common sense as to border on the absurd. Therein lies the frustration of so many: why should we have to be battling so hard when the negative ramifications of allowing Wal-Mart to build are so obvious?

We urge the City Council to deny this application. We encourage the councilors not to buy into staff's narrow-minded mantra of 'code reigns supreme over the health of the community.' What can make this decision historic is the council's unflinching commitment to build a vision for the unincorporated lands which it will someday rule. We have faith in the council and its discretion. Please show us that that faith is well founded.