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After months of consideration and a pair of public hearings, members of the Hillsboro Planning Commission have decided to approve WalMart’s revised plan for a neighborhood market. An adjoining residential complex is part of the project.

Hillsboro Planning Director Colin Cooper said members of the planning commission deliberated WalMart’s “Sequoia Village” proposal March 12 and “came to verbal tentative approval” of the project, which is planned for the northeast corner of Baseline Road and Cornelius Pass Road.

“Staff will now prepare the written land use order and findings, and the commissioners will review that at their April 9 meeting,” Cooper said. “Then, based upon the preliminary approval, [they] would recommend adopting the findings for approval.”

The proposal for a new 50,000-square-foot WalMart market and 208-unit residential complex was first presented to the city of Hillsboro in May 2013. Public hearings on the concept — in November last year and again in February of this year — drew more than 100 citizens each time, with almost every speaker urging the commissioners to deny the WalMart request.

After hearing concerns about the development from the public as well as from several of the commissioners, the project’s developers revised their plans.

The number of residential units was reduced from the originally-proposed 244 units to 208, and the designers of the WalMart store and the residential complex agreed to incorporate many of the same earth-tone colors and landscaping to create “an integrated site with a better-aligned color palette,” in the words of Rachel Wall, senior manager of communications from WalMart’s regional office in Los Angeles.

The planning commission also required that several of the planned residential buildings be reduced from three stories to two stories to mitigate visual impacts on existing residential neighborhoods near the development site.

“It reduces the mass of the building as it presents itself to the neighborhood to the north,” Cooper explained.

“We have worked diligently to incorporate the commission’s feedback and provide an updated design that fits the city’s vision,” Wall said after learning of the planning commission’s recommendation. “We appreciate the very positive response they have recently provided and we’re pleased with the tentative approval.

“We look forward to the realization of the Sequoia Village and offering our customers a convenient option for healthy, fresh groceries and wellness products.”

The development is expected to occur in four phases, with the WalMart being built first, followed by the residential complex and finally two separate 9,000-square-foot commercial buildings adjacent to the WalMart store.

Cooper said if the planning commissioners adopt the final order and findings on April 9, that would be the last step for approval — with one caveat.

“Once the order is final, there is a 15-day appeal period,” Cooper said. “If it is appealed, the appeal would be heard by the Hillsboro City Council. That’s the process for any land use decision in Hillsboro.”

If there is no appeal, Cooper said WalMart could begin construction at the site, although he was not sure when the company would do so.

“Any project with that amount of public improvement of roads and utilities would take between 12 and 18 months to complete,” he said.

Cooper noted that the WalMart/Sequoia Village project has been under consideration for a long time.

“WalMart has demonstrated they have not been in a hurry, and they have tried to respond to the testimony and the Planning Commission concerns,” Cooper said. “WalMart has done a good job in trying to balance the concerns. But it’s pretty clear not everyone will be happy.”

Hillsboro resident Janeen Sollman, a member of the Hillsboro School Board, said she has been speaking out strictly as a private citizen about the possible impacts the WalMart development could have.

“I am greatly concerned about the traffic this will add; I think this is going to be a traffic nightmare,” Sollman said.

With schools already overcrowded, Sollman also expressed concern about the capacity of area schools to handle the influx of kids from the new residential complex, saying it could have a significant impact on school attendance.

“I’m disappointed,” she said. “I understand the planning commissioners had their hands tied as far as what they can and can’t consider. And I don’t hold them to fault. I’m just disappointed.”

Sollman added she is hoping the city at least restricts WalMart from being open around the clock as one way to mitigate impacts on the area.

“Studies show Washington County residents are happy, and the area enjoys high livability ratings,” Sollman said. “More growth and traffic will affect our livability and the livability of the city. That’s why I’m upset.”

The next meeting of the Hillsboro Planning Commission — in which the final vote on the Sequoia Village development is expected — is scheduled for April 9 at 6:30 p.m. in the Civic Center auditorium.

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