By Bill MacKenzie
When WalMart proposed a 210,155 square foot Supercenter with more than 1,000 parking spaces at the intersection of Cornelius Pass and Baseline Road in Hillsboro 10 years ago, the surrounding community went berserk.
Fired up opponents had no shortage of complaints. Too much traffic. Too big a building. Too little pay for workers. Not compatible with the neighborhood. WalMart’s anti-union. In the face of vociferous opposition, Hillsboro’s Planning Commission denied WalMart’s proposal.
Now, as the little girl Carol Anne said in the 1986 trailer for “Poltergeist II,” “They’re baaack!” And the critics are, too.
At a Nov. 13 public hearing held by the Hillsboro Planning Commission, WalMart representatives tried to set a new tone for a newly designed project called Sequoia Village. “That denial decision has shaped what you have before you tonight.” said Greg Hathaway, an Oregon attorney for WalMart, when introducing the new design.
Instead of a regional Supercenter of Brobdingnagian proportions, there would be a smaller, more appealing neighborhood grocery store of about 50,000 square feet that would draw mostly local folks, explained a WalMart team representative.
There would also be 242 apartment units and two small retail buildings. Instead of 1,000 Supercenter parking spaces covering acres of asphalt, there would be just 284 parking spots adjacent to the grocery store and almost eight acres of open space. An improved road system, already in place, would capably handle traffic. There’d be more tree preservation and trail enhancement.
It didn’t matter.
When the commission members asked supporters of the proposed project to come forward and comment, not a single supporter came forward — just one woman who said she was neutral.
But when the commissioners asked opponents to come forward in groups of three, a very long night of testimony began.
I don’t like this; I don’t like that, asserted one opponent after another as they paraded to tables facing the Planning Commission.
WalMart’s a low-wage company. Traffic will be horrific. Our neighborhood will be destroyed. The development will mean more kids and that will hurt our schools. The new site plan doesn’t have a Northwest feel. Wildlife will be harmed. It will hurt the Albertsons store across the street. It will draw poor people. The litany of complaints went on and on into the night (and many were repeated in a Nov. 22 Hillsboro Tribune editorial).
Even a couple of the commissioners chimed in. Commissioner Charles Fleisher lambasted the proposed store’s architecture as severe and somber, and said the apartment buildings were too dense and tight. CommissionerBrian Roberts also criticized the site’s architecture, saying, “It seems ordinary; it doesn’t have a lot of life.”
I suspect what’s really driving the opposition is an anti-WalMart mindset, fostered by unions and some progressive groups, and a fear of growth.
To the generic anti-WalMart folks, the answer is simple. If you don’t like WalMart, don’t shop or work at their stores and let the marketplace function. If not enough people want to work or shop there, it will not succeed.
Consider also that WalMart can mean good things.
As Jason Furman, chair of the Council of Economic Advisors underPresident Obama, has written, “By acting in the interests of its shareholders, WalMart has innovated and expanded competition, resulting in huge benefits for the American middle class and even proportionately larger benefits for moderate-income Americans … to the degree the anti-WalMart campaign slows or halts the spread of WalMart to new areas, it will lead to higher prices that disproportionately harm lower-income families.”As for the anti-growth argument, stopping this project won’t stop growth. The 26 acres on which Sequoia Village would sit is prime property. It won’t sit vacant interminably. It will be developed.
If it’s done responsibly, that can be a good thing, and the Sequoia Village design is a good start. Economic growth is a desirable social goal, and preferable to stagnation. It is economic growth that creates jobs, which leads to more tax receipts, which allows government to pay for public services.
While some improvements at Sequoia Village are certainly merited, WalMart’s new proposal is clearly superior to its 2003 plan, and the Planning Commission should move forward to make it work.
That doesn’t mean the commission should just accept WalMart’s latest Sequoia Village proposal carte blanche. A more architecturally appealing grocery store is certainly achievable, for example. But a not-in-my-backyard halt to the project just doesn’t make sense.
Bill MacKenzie is a former congressional staff member, newspaper reporter and communications manager for a Hillsboro company.
Originally published in the Hillsboro Tribune, Dec. 7, 2013