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Its Westmoreland neighbors air QFC grievances

by: David F. Ashton, The back parking lot of Westmoreland’s QFC Market – the lot is adjacent to residential properties on the west side (at right). From time to time during daytime hours, trucks load and unload here, to supply the store.

A group of Westmoreland neighbors met on March 31 with the manager and staff of the Quality Food Centers, Inc. (QFC) store, to 'solve existing problems between the neighborhood and the store,' as Joan Coates put it, when asking for a reporter from THE BEE to be present at the afternoon meeting.

When we arrived, however, we were asked not to record comments for transcription, or to photograph the session, which was facilitated by City of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement Crime Prevention Coordinator Jacob Brostoff. Our report is based on what we heard and what we saw, but not on recordings of the meeting.

In part, the purpose of the meeting seemed to be to revisit a 'Good Neighbor Agreement' drawn up in September of 2001, after the Kienow's Market at 6411 S.E. Milwaukie Avenue was demolished and replaced with the present QFC store. That agreement removed outdoor can recycling machines, closed the back parking lot in midevening, and led to signs posted in the parking lot reminding patrons to be quiet.

Brostoff first asked participants to discuss what had been working well.

The neighbors' list included:

• Collaboration with QFC management;

• Improvements to the outdoor bottle return, and taking only those deposit-return containers sold at the store;

• Alcohol not being kept out front, and generally not being sold to visibly intoxicated people; and,

• Encouraging the use of the front door on Milwaukie Avenue.

QFC management's list:

• Working with neighbors to be the store's 'eyes' on the parking lot;

• Neighbors alerting store management to vendors violating rules, such as making noise, delivery trucks idling unnecessarily and other parking lot related issues; and,

• Their overall relationship with neighbors.

Neighbors air grievances

When the organizing neighbors were asked to suggest what could be improved, one recurrent theme concerned the west parking lot, which backs up to homes.

One issue mentioned was the number of trucks delivering goods to the loading dock behind the store, and their impact in terms of noise, exhaust fumes, and the sound of back-up signal beepers.

Additional parking lot issues included public misconduct, bottles strewn about, and other forms of 'offensive littering' caused by store patrons. Also mentioned was customers leaving dogs tied up by the parking lot store entrance.

About store operations, one neighbor alleged that the QFC store is like a 'party supply store for underage drinkers' who routinely steal beer and wine 'on a daily basis'. Others blamed the alleged thefts on an inattentive staff which doesn't chase down shoplifters after they leave the store. Neighbors also criticized what they perceived a lack of QFC employee training regarding where to park, and where to take smoke breaks.

Finally, several residents said they've stopped calling to report offensive conditions or violations of the Good Neighbor Agreement because they feel their criticisms go unheeded.

Potential solutions emerge

Solutions suggested included employee orientation and refresher sessions regarding the Good Neighbor Agreement, and 'best practices' for the parking lot, the loading dock area, employee parking, and smoke-break locations.

Posting new and larger signs, encouraging patrons to leash their dogs near the store's front entrance on Milwaukie Avenue - and in general, to 'be mindful of the neighborhood context, and limit noise when possible' were suggested.

To better deal with trucks bringing merchandise to the store, both from QFC's Belleville, Washington, warehouse, and local and regional distributors, neighbors attending the meeting suggested appointing a parking lot and loading dock 'attendant', and replacing on-street parking on S.E. Henry Street with a truck loading zone.

Finally, QFC management was encouraged to provide nighttime security personnel, and maintain a log of neighbor complaints.

THE BEE was not invited to a follow-up meeting April 10. Calls and e-mails to the organizer of the meeting weren't returned.

QFC Westmoreland manager Ron Nelson did agree to an interview, but later cancelled it, suggesting instead that we speak with their corporate office.

Ken Banks, in the public relations department at QFC's home office in Belleville, called, but said he didn't have a copy of the Good Neighbor Agreement - so we sent it to him - and said he needed to discuss the issues with Nelson. In a later phone call, he said, 'There's really nothing to report at this time.'

Westmoreland's neighborhood association, SMILE, which helped broker the current Good Neighbor Agreement, has not heard, at any of its General Public Meetings in recent years, of any problem at all involving neighbors of the store - but indicates it would be willing to step in and help if a problem is identified. But, at the moment, THE BEE finds this entire situation quite diffuse, and rather hard to pin down. Is there really a problem? We don't know.