Former ViewMaster property is being considered for major retail development

The already crammed strip along Oregon Highway 217 in Beaverton is about to expand with more big-name retail outlets, this time at the contaminated site of the old ViewMaster plant.

City officials will make their initial decision within a week on a proposal by Harsch Investment Properties, the Portland development company that owns the neighboring Cascade Plaza shopping center, to develop 135,800 square feet of new commercial buildings on the 6.4-acre site. The development would expand Cascade Plaza, which is currently home to Burlington Coat Factory, Linens-N-Things and Powell's Books.

Jordan Schnitzer, president of Harsch, said plans so far include several 'big-box' tenants as well as a few small shops. He said talks are ongoing with a number of retailers, though nothing will be confirmed for at least 90 days.

Harsch had talked with Kohl's Corp., a Wisconsin-based retailer of name brand clothing and housewares, but accommodating the department store would have meant leaving other, smaller retailers out of the mix, Schnitzer said.

Kohl's, which also is considering new stores in Wood Village and on Southeast 82nd Ave. near the Clackamas Town Center, has instead turned its eye to another site, adjacent to Cascade Plaza, that currently is home to the Malibu Grand Prix racetrack. The 5.83-acre property is owned by MacTarnahan Limited Partnership, a separate real estate company owned by the MacTarnahans of local brewing fame.

Although Malibu Grand Prix owner Kevin O'Connell said only that Kohl's was 'considering' the site, the retailer did submit an application for a two-story, 98,000-square-foot building on the site about three weeks ago, said Ethan Edwards, an associate planner with the city of Beaverton.

The Kohl's application is presently under review for 'completeness,' Edwards said. If deemed complete, it will make its way through the full application process and end up before the city's Board of Design and Review. The City Council would make the final decision.

Unlike some of their Portland counterparts, Beaverton residents aren't steamed over the construction of large-scale retail operations.

Jim Persey, chairman of the Greenway Neighborhood Association, said neighbors didn't seem to have many major issues with the plans to expand Cascade Plaza.

'It's a long ways from the nearest housing development, in between a railroad track and 217, so we would not expect anything other than commercial development there,' he said.

More cars in the area could further snarl traffic, though an analysis submitted with the application by Kittelson & Associates Inc. found that nearby intersections should be able to accommodate any increase.

Clean bill of health

Persey did say that some citizens have voiced concern about the environmental issues associated with the site of the proposed expansion. Groundwater at the site became contaminated with the industrial solvent trichloro-ethylene while the ViewMaster factory was in operation there.

Large quantities of TCE, used to degrease machine parts at the factory, were dumped on-site. The chemical, now known to cause cancer in laboratory animals, contaminated underground wells for more than 20 years. An Oregon Department of Human Services study released last year found elevated rates of cancer among a group of former factory employees who had died since 1995.

Persey said he's also heard concerns that tearing down the old factory buildings too soon could hamper future lawsuits or settlement attempts.

Bruce Gilles, a project manager with the state Department of Environmental Quality, said cleanup of the site has been ongoing since 1998. Paid for largely by the GAF Corp., which operated the plant when the dumping occurred, the $3.5 million cleanup has DEQ crews drilling new wells, pumping out contaminated water, treating it and releasing the clean water into Fanno Creek.

Gilles said DEQ expects to be pumping and treating the water for 30 years.

However, the plans to expand Cascade Plaza, as well a potential light-rail stop along the nearby tracks, 'are compatible with what we're doing,' he said, adding that the site now gets its entire water supply from the city of Beaverton.

Moving forward

After a public hearing last night, the Board of Design and Review is set to make a recommendation within the week on the Cascade Plaza expansion. City employees already have recommended approval of various design criteria, including whether the proposal meets land-use regulations and requirements for handicapped accessibility.

Edwards said if the application meets review board and City Council approval, it will move on to site development for review and then to the building permit stage.

Schnitzer said he expects construction to begin by the middle of the summer if all goes as planned.

Beaverton Mayor Rob Drake said he's excited about the plans to redevelop the ViewMaster site.

'It's taking an old property that certainly was long overdue for redevelopment and, with some of the environmental problems there É turning a brown field into a green field,' he said.

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