Traffic concerns trip up retail giant's big plans
Wal-Mart representatives are not quite ready to give up plans to build a new store in Cedar Mill.
Despite Monday night's City Council vote to uphold an appeal by a citizens group opposed to construction of the store, the company is weighing its options and could challenge the city's decision.
'It's something that our customers have asked for in the community for over three years,' said Jennifer Holder, senior manager of public affairs for Wal-Mart's West region, which includes Oregon and Washington.
'Building this store is an opportunity for us to come in and serve them and become part of this community. If it wasn't important, we wouldn't have spent two years in this process working and revising our plan to gain the support of the Board of Design Review and staff.'
City councilors unanimously rejected plans Monday night to build the proposed 152,308-square-foot Wal-Mart at the busy intersection of Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard and Barnes Road.
Councilors voted 5 to 0 to uphold an appeal by opponents of the store that would have been constructed on 9.28 acres in the Peterkort development.
The council's decision means developers of the Wal-Mart site would have to get a favorable ruling from the state Land Use Board of Appeals to build the store.
Councilors voted in favor of the appeal by the anti-Wal-Mart citizens group Save Cedar Mill of a June 1 city Board of Design Review decision that approved the project.
Wal-Mart representatives were unhappy with the city's decision and said the Bentonville, Ark., retail giant would take a careful look at an appeal to the state land-use agency.
'We are disappointed that after two years of work with a number of unbiased agencies, a vote of support from the Board of Design Review and full support of city staff has been set aside for what appears to be a politically motivated decision,' Holder said.
She believes the council ruled the way it did because the applicant is Wal-Mart.
'This is not supposed to be a popularity contest,' Holder added. 'It's about the zoning and right to develop the property as planned.'
She said Wal-Mart and its legal team would take a careful look at the city's final decision next Monday and decide what they would do next. Wal-Mart has 21 days after the order is signed to decide whether it will appeal the decision.
'We didn't hear any legal basis for the council's decision to overturn the Board of Design Review's decision and support of city staff,' Holder said.
Save Cedar Mill members were 'overwhelmed' by the city's decision.
Steve Kaufman, president of Save Cedar Mill, praised the council and said he was surprised by the unanimous vote.
'In my wildest dreams I didn't think it would be like this,' Kaufman said.
'The whole community of Cedar Mill reached out and made their voices heard and the city listened.'
Kaufman praised the hard work and dedication by members of the group that eventually beat the 'longshot odds.'
'In the end, bumper stickers and pizza slices overcame our opponents' expensive lawyers and flawed traffic studies,' Kaufman wrote in an e-mail to Save Cedar Mill members.
'It's about impacts'
Nearly every city councilor said Monday night that the decision came down to the issue of pedestrian and transit accessibility of the site. Because the site was zoned by Washington County for transit-oriented development before the city annexed it in February 2005, that zoning was the key to the council's vote.
Councilor Betty Bode said the proposed traffic enhancements were far from pedestrian friendly.
'Pedestrian safety at the Barnes crossing is only supported by a traffic island - that is not enough,' Bode said. 'This transit-oriented designation is for the expressed purpose to encourage pedestrian and transit use.
'If this is really for pedestrians, it doesn't look like it.'
Councilor Bruce Dalrymple agreed and said the size of the proposed use would create a 'magnitude of transportation impacts' that would discourage people from walking, biking or using public transit for the majority of their trips to the site.
City councilors also said the applicant failed to take into consideration residential development north of the site.
'With the amount of housing that will go in on the north side of Southwest Barnes as well as all the development that is going on along Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard north of Barnes, any development that goes in must be transit oriented,' said Council President Cathy Stanton. 'Barnes must be safely and easily crossed.
'Both Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard and Southwest Barnes Road must support the housing that will be coming. It does not appear that they can support a Wal-Mart and the housing densities planned.'
It also was an issue of 'livability' for many of the councilors.
'The consequences of putting something of this size and impact, at this intersection, is just more than I am comfortable with,' Stanton said.
'This big-box use in this spot is not workable,' added Councilor Dennis Doyle.
'To me it's like putting a linebacker in an evening gown for a beauty pageant,' said Councilor Catherine Arnold. 'It doesn't work.'
Dalrymple went a step further, outlining what he would like to see at the site.
'This site may be best served by providing multiple retail service businesses at a more pedestrian scale,' Dalrymple said. 'Businesses that will serve the surrounding and developing transit station uses, surrounding neighborhoods and align more closely with helping to resolve impacts of this transportation corridor.'
Mayor Rob Drake, who was not required to vote on the issue, said the council's primary concern that the area be developed with pedestrian- and transit-friendly projects was paramount to the decision.
Even though most of Cedar Mill is outside city limits, Drake said the city's decision could affect the quality of life for hundreds of residents who will move in once the area is developed.
'I really don't think this is about Wal-Mart,' Drake said. 'This is the wrong store for this location.
'It's not about Wal-Mart, it's about impacts.'