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Commission hears scaled-down WalMart plan

In a meeting that stretched for six hours Feb. 12, the

Hillsboro Planning Commission heard a revamped proposal from proponents of a new WalMart “neighborhood market” store at the intersection of Cornelius Pass Road and Baseline Road in the Aloha area.

The hearing was almost a replay of the Planning Commission’s public meeting on WalMart’s “Sequoia Village” development proposal, which calls for a 50,000-square-foot WalMart market as well as a large residential complex. In November, many of the same pro and con arguments were heard, and many of the same faces were in the crowd, which numbered about 100.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - In a marathon public session that stretched over six hours, the Hillsboro Planning Commission reviewed the developers changes to the proposed Sequoia Village project and heard from numerous citizens, almost all of whom opposed the project.

The big difference, however, was in the proposal for the site, as project developers presented a significantly revised site plan.

Representatives of the Sequoia Village project said they had reviewed the concerns and suggestions of the city’s planning commissioners and local residents from the November hearing and incorporated those ideas into the new proposal.

“After the last meeting, we took suggestions from the planning commission to heart and came back with a more integrated design to better blend the retail and residential components as suggested,” said Rachel Wall, senior manager of communications from WalMart’s regional headquarters in Los Angeles.

Alterations included aesthetic modifications to the design, particularly along the back and sides of the building; extending the brick and cultured stone all the way around the building; enhancing landscaping, including planting 77 new sequoia trees; increasing the setback of the development from the closest neighbors; and adding benches and large brick planter boxes.

Also, WalMart and the residential complex would use many of the same earth-tone colors and the plants and landscaping elements would be coordinated.

“There was an effort to create an integrated site with a better-aligned color palette,” said Wall.

Although the size of the proposed store was not altered, project managers noted a major reduction in the size of the residential complex — from 242 to 208 units.

“We appreciated all the feedback and the time we were given to implement the changes,” said Wall. “This is a better-suited development because this is something the community has provided a lot of feedback about. We hope it will be a successful shopping center and bring economic development for the area.”

The site is proposed to be built in four phases, with the WalMart store coming first, and then the residential complex. After that, two other commercial buildings would be added at the corners of the parcel.

Planning Commission President Katie Eyre took note of the extent to which the proponents had altered their concept to meet the concerns that were raised.

“There is a dramatic difference from what we saw in November,” Eyre said.

“We prepared very carefully,” said Greg Hathaway, an attorney working on behalf of WalMart. “So much was said at that earlier meeting. We kind of started all over. It has been three months since we were here, and we reviewed every comment by the planning commissioners and all the public comments.

“This is a really good project, and it’s better after you took us to task.”

Before taking testimony from the public, Eyre reminded citizens that some issues could not be addressed by the planning commission.

“We cannot address labor practices or impacts on schools,” Eyre said. “We are not able to consider those issues.”

The first public speaker to offer testimony was Doug Barrett, chairman of the Greater Hillsboro Area Chamber of Commerce. Barrett urged the commissioners to give the WalMart proposal a green light, saying the Sequoia Village development would create jobs and bring needed housing for the area.

“It will create 75 new jobs and add to the city and county tax base,” Barrett said. “We give WalMart a lot of credit for listening to the concerns of residents. This will bring jobs, shopping and housing options to the community.”

Almost all the citizens who offered testimony to the commissioners had an opposing view, however.

Gerald Fischer, who said he has lived in the community for 40 years, was worried about the increasing levels of traffic.

“This location is not suited for that development,” Fischer said. “The roads are not made to handle what we have now. It’s going to be a freeway, and that intersection is very difficult already, Air quality and noise are extreme now and will be beyond extreme if this project is approved. It’s just going to be too much.”

Negative impacts

Another speaker blasted the city of Hillsboro for considering allowing a WalMart into the area in the first place.

“Data shows the negative impacts from WalMarts, and one of the greatest fears people have is that property values may begin to slip,” she said.

She pointed out that the city of Hillsboro expects to gain tax revenues from the proposed development, but warned that was unfair to neighborhood residents.

“This gain will be made off the backs of people who live nearby,” the woman said. “Is this really the best use of this property? Is the value the city gains today worth future lawsuits?”

Janeen Sollman, a member of the Hillsboro School Board, said she was speaking as a private citizen in urging the planning commissioners to reject the Sequoia Village proposal.

“Cornelius Pass Road will feel a deep impact,” Sollman said. “There will be more trucks coming up and down the road, and 24 hours a day. Please say ‘no’ to this proposal.”

At the end of the hearing, the record was closed. The issue is expected to be before the planning commission at its March 12 meeting. That session will not be open for public testimony and the commission is likely to vote the WalMart proposal up or down at that time.

Proponents expressed optimism after the hearing, pointing out that the the commissioners had some positive comments at the end of the hearing.

But Vince Dimone, one of the opponents of the proposed WalMart, said approving the proposed Sequoia Village development would be a mistake.

“There are many unknowns about this proposed development — issues that should concern the Hillsboro Planning Commission — and that should tamp down its apparent rush to grant approval,” Dimone said. “Why should the planning commission exist at all if it is simply a rubber stamp for monied interests, for resource-rich applicants like WalMart?

“Population growth, traffic growth and public safety issues rise to the top of these unknowns, and it seems so reckless that the planning commission ignores probable outcomes that directly impact our neighborhood vitality and quality of life.”

Wall said she was hopeful the alterations in the WalMart proposal would be sufficient to gain the approval of the planning commission.

“We updated the concept for Sequoia Village so that it would be a good fit for our customers and the community,” said Wall. “We really took to heart the suggestions from the commission. We are very pleased with the latest feedback and look forward to providing Hillsboro residents with a store that meets their needs and the vision for the community.”



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