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Citizens blast WalMart plans

When it comes to the community’s views on WalMart locating on Cornelius Pass Road in Hillsboro, not much has changed in 10 years.

On Nov. 13, more than 100 citizens turned out for a Hillsboro Planning Commission public hearing that stretched more than four hours. The commission called the meeting to take testimony on a proposal to create a mixed-use development anchored by a 50,000-square-foot WalMart “neighborhood market,” and as had been the case in 2003, the public appeared to be overwhelmingly against the concept.by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: DOUG BURKHARDT - Vernon Mock, a strong critic of WalMarts development plans, displayed his viewpoint right up front at a Nov. 13 public hearing.

The project, called Sequoia Village, is proposed to go on the corner of West Baseline Road and Southwest Cornelius Pass Road, which is currently an undeveloped greenspace with dozens of giant sequoia trees. The overall development would spread across 25.7 acres and, in addition to the WalMart store, would include a 242-unit housing subdivision.

Greg Hathaway, a partner with Hathaway Koback Connors LLP, a Portland law firm representing WalMart’s application, opened his remarks by noting that the city of Hillsboro’s denial of a permit for a WalMart “superstore” at the same location a decade ago shaped WalMart’s new plan.

“That project was denied, and that denial decision has shaped the proposal before you tonight,” Hathaway explained.

He said the proposed WalMart would be much smaller, and the overall project footprint would also be smaller.

“It had to be smaller and a mixed-use development for a better fit in the community,” Hathaway said. “We believe this proposal complies with the standards the city set out. WalMart can comply with all the conditions of your planning staff.”

That did not mollify those in the crowd at the Hillsboro Civic Center, who raised a multitude of objections to seeing a WalMart located in the area.

More than two dozen speakers blasted the proposal, and urged the seven members of the city’s planning commission to deny WalMart’s request for a permit.

Brian Roberts, vice president of the planning commission, first called for project proponents to come forward and testify for a maximum of three minutes. No one spoke in favor of the project, so opponents were given their turn.

Vernon Mock, a citizen wearing a T-shirt that read “Never shop WalMart!” was emphatic in his opposition.

“I am totally against this. Forty percent of WalMart workers are on government assistance, and I don’t like paying that when the owners of WalMart are billionaires,” Mock said. “WalMart employees’ wages are minimum wage, and they short people on their hours so there is no medical and no vacation hours.”

Local businesses hurt

Mock warned that when WalMarts come in to a community, existing businesses often suffer.

“Other stores went belly-up because of WalMart moving in,” Mock said. “This would be going in across from Albertsons. WalMart could maybe close Albertsons up. We don’t need another grocery store in that area.”by: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: DOUG BURKHARDT - Citizens at last weeks public hearing on a proposed WalMart development look at a presentation and crowd around maps and charts describing the plan. About 100 people turned out for the Nov. 13 hearing at the Hillsboro Civic Center.

Traffic was one of the main concerns citizens mentioned.

Janeen Sollman, a member of the Hillsboro School Board, said she was in “complete opposition” to the proposed WalMart.

“I have great concerns about growth. I can’t imagine what it will be like with Intel also being on Cornelius Pass Road,” Sollman said. “It will be a traffic nightmare.”

The impact on schools could be serious as well, she added.

“Orenco’s schools are already at capacity. Where will those students (from the housing development) go?” she questioned. “Please decline WalMart in this area, and preserve our sanity from these growing pains.”

At that point, the crowd erupted with a strong burst of applause. The display of support brought a rebuke from Roberts, who warned that any further outbursts would not be tolerated.

In addressing the issue of added traffic congestion, city planners said their research indicated the increase in traffic from a WalMart development would not be excessive.

“Our analysis showed the development meets all requirements for the city and county,” said Christina Fera-Thomas, transportation planning analyst for the city. “Studies show sufficient capacity out there for this development.”

Judy Emmons said she lives in a neighborhood behind the proposed development area, and did not agree with the city’s assessment regarding traffic.

“I think the traffic would be atrocious,” Emmons said. “And WalMart is not being a good neighbor when they are building three- and four-story buildings in our backyard.”

Other speakers pointed out that WalMart stores are usually open 24 hours a day and the mall would create a large amount of light pollution.

“Their lighting is set up to broadcast all over the area,” said one opponent. “It would bring a huge amount of lighting to that area that is basically industrial.”

Katie Durant reminded the commissioners there are already four grocery stores within three miles of the Cornelius Pass/Baseline corner.

“We don’t need another one,” Durant said.

Another issue was the sequoia trees on the site, many of which would be lost if the development is approved.

Scott Franklin, an engineer with Pacland, a project engineering and management firm working on the WalMart project, said many of the sequoias on the site are not healthy.

“There are 338 total trees on the site, but only 128 healthy trees,” Franklin said. “We’d save 72 percent of those healthy ones.”

Sharp questions

Several of the commissioners had sharp questions for the project’s proponents.

“Personally, I’m extremely disappointed with the site plan layout and the proposed architecture,” said Commissioner Charles Fleisher. “This project has a somber, industrial feel, and severe lines with big boxes on the edges. I’d think you’d want to make this pleasant to the neighborhood.”

Fleisher urged the designers to “celebrate the corner” where Sequoia Village would be located. He suggested that WalMart’s designers should take a look at the Kohl’s department store a couple miles up Cornelius Pass Road.

“They put a water feature at the corner. It takes up valuable real estate, but it makes it nice,” Fleisher explained. “This (Baseline/Cornelius Pass) is the corner of two major thoroughfares in the city. Put a sculpture there, or something to do with sequoias. A contribution to the community would be in order.”

Roberts said his reaction was similar to Fleisher’s.

“I’m disappointed,” Roberts said. “It seems ordinary, and there’s not a lot of life. The residential buildings look like they have a bit of Northwest flavor, but it would be nice if the two (WalMart and the housing units) were compatible somehow. It looks like neither side talked to each other.”

Roberts said he had reservations about supporting the project in its current form.

“As far as I’m concerned, we’re not there yet,” he said.

Hillsboro resident Peter Davies urged the commissioners to turn down WalMart’s proposal.

“The Hillsboro population rejected WalMart several years ago, and I hope we do so again,” Davies said. “When WalMart opens a store, it destroys jobs and nearby businesses, and they sell low-quality merchandise not made in America. WalMart should be boycotted.”

Perhaps the evening’s most emphatic and impassioned speaker was Vincent Dimond, who warned of an increased number of traffic accidents if WalMart is allowed to go in.

“WalMart is a magnet, and every traffic data item you have is understated,” Dimond declared. “There are many, many children walking along these streets. We are going to have many more accidents. You are putting citizens in danger. Please listen to the people here!”

In the wake of the outpouring of opposition, proponents of Sequoia Village asked the city for a continuance until Jan. 8.

“Applicants requested time to prepare a response to the Planning Commission and to the public,” explained Colin Cooper, the city’s planning director.

Cooper said the proponents’ request for a delay was not unusual.

“It’s not uncommon for applicants to take comments and make modifications to their plans in response,” said Cooper. “Now we wait to see what the applicant’s team does to respond.”




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