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Raleigh Hills neighbors fear proposed Walmart's effect on traffic

by: Jaime Valdez Walmart is planning to open its version of a grocery store in the former Zupan's Market on Southwest Apple Way.

For the 10 years Jon Farmer has lived on Laurelwood Avenue, he's seen too many vehicles moving too fast on the neighborhood street between Scholls Ferry Road and Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway.

As a between-the-cracks Raleigh Hills resident just beyond the Beaverton city limits, he's all but given up on finding support from city or county entities to install traffic-calming speed humps on the road.

Now, with Walmart planning to open its version of a grocery store in the former Zupan's Market on nearby Apple Way, he and some fellow neighbors are afraid the traffic situation will only get worse.

Farmer said he's surveyed 27 households in his neighborhood to see how they felt about a Walmart grocery store on the site, and the message was clear.

'Nobody wants it,' he says of what he calls his 'grassroots' door-to-door survey. 'I took a lot of time to hear what people had to say. We're all opposed to it. I'm just not sure how we can fight it.'

Despite the controversies around Walmart 'box' superstores that led several Portland-area communities to keep the retail giant at bay, the retired airline employee says the issue is more about potential popularity than a corporate name.

As he understands it, the Walmart market would be a full-service grocery store likely to attract more customers than Zupan's, a family-owned specialty market that closed its Raleigh Hills store in May 2009.

'I have nothing against Walmart,' he says. 'I'd probably shop there. Traffic is the only opposition. People hear Walmart, and they think 'lower prices.' The traffic flow is what I'm concerned about.'

Parking, he concedes, is also a problem.

'The parking's inadequate. Next to the street are apartments and a Fred Meyer parking lot,' he says. 'There are not a lot of parking places there. There weren't a lot when Zupan's was there.'

Walmart has prepared a design review compliance letter for the store to submit to the city of Beaverton, said Delia Garcia, a company spokeswoman. The store would move into the existing Zupan's building following an extensive renovation.

Launched in 1998 as the 'Neighborhood Market,' the newly re-branded Walmart Market - at 40,000 square feet or less, a quarter the size of the company's controversial superstores - typically employs 80 to 100 employees and offers about 28,000 items.

'The market will offer a quick and convenient shopping experience for customers who need groceries, pharmaceuticals and general merchandise,' Garcia said.

George Gallagher, a neighbor of Farmer's, says he agrees traffic will likely affect the quality of life in the neighborhood if a popular grocery store moves in.

'My concern is that it will increase traffic on this street we already have problems with,' he says. 'We have enough traffic as it is.'

Like Farmer, he believes the nature of the proposed Walmart will create a marked difference in vehicular traffic from what was there three years ago.

'Zupan's was a high-end store,' he says. 'Their stuff was really expensive. I don't think their parking lot was ever full.'

Noting his neighborhood - a mixture of residential homes, apartment buildings and smaller businesses - is 'not very close-knit,' Gallagher says he's not sure how much commitment he and Farmer could get from their neighbors, much less city officials, to address traffic-related concerns in an organized fashion.

'My experience is the city won't do anything for us because we're not part of the city,' he says, noting the Zupan's site is within Beaverton city limits. 'I did call the county when we wanted speed bumps. The person I talked to told me there was no funding.'

Peter Arellano, Beaverton's public works director, admits the residents are somewhat hamstrung by their location in terms of funding traffic-flow improvements.

However, he sees the potential for Walmart to strike an agreement with neighbors, 'if they present a united front,' in exchange for the residents' support of the store project.

'There are all sorts of ways to win here,' Arellano says of the situation.

Farmer says he plans to circulate a flyer among his neighbors to outline Walmart's and the city's plans for the site.

If he can get an organized consensus, he'll do what he can to attend meetings and work with local officials toward alleviating traffic and parking concerns.

'I think it will be a success once it goes in,' he says of the proposed store. 'And that's what scares neighbors. We'll try to do what we can before it's too late.'