Before sharing photos of what's planned for the new shopping center where Costco will be the dominant presence, I wanted to show the most surprising aspect of the meeting. Empty chairs.
This reflects the failure of Costco Wholesale and PacTrust real estate representatives to have the guts to stand up in front of concerned neighbors and answer their questions about why it makes sense to plunk a gigantic big box store right next to a residential area where people already feel the traffic is getting unmanageable.
Along with other people I talked to at the meeting, I figured it would start off with a presentation by Costco and PacTrust staff, then move into a Q & A session. But no, staff members simply stood by easels, passively waiting for people to talk to them.
From what I heard, and this is echoed in an excellent Statesman Journal story, "South Salem residents angered by lack of information from Costco, PacTrust officials," neighbors and other concerned citizens were expecting more than just a bunch of easels with images of the proposed development.
Here's how the story by reporter Natalie Pate starts out:
Though Costco Wholesale and PacTrust real estate officials did not officially confirm Costco is relocating to Kuebler Boulevard SE in South Salem, their statements and visual aids at a Tuesday night meeting indicated they're just waiting for city approval.
The session left local residents feeling deflated.
Costco and PacTrust officials stood by signs and mock-up designs of the proposed store at an open house event.
Area residents and members of the South Gateway Neighborhood Association were invited to ask any and all questions they had about the proposed move and dozens attended.
But residents said they left feeling unheard and their questions unanswered.
"We got ignored; they didn't care," said long-time resident Nancy Wollslair. "They talk like it's a done deal."
Wollslair has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years. She is one of the hundreds of residents who oppose the potential Costco coming to Kuebler Boulevard SE.
It's easy to understand why neighbors are opposed to Costco relocating from the current Mission Street location.
A couple I spoke with had hoped that the shopping center would be a lot more akin to charming walkable Bridgeport Village than to a smaller version of the ghastly autocentric Keizer Station where it is virtually impossible to walk from shopping area to shopping area, given the vast parking lots.
I told them that, indeed, it's hard to imagine people in the neighborhood getting all excited about walking to Costco, then pushing a cart loaded with four gigantic boxes of paper towels back to their home.
Regarding how the proposed Costco would look, I talked with one of their architects, noting that it must be pretty easy to design a Costco, since it is the epitome of a big box store. The image above is of the entrance, which doesn't look all that bad.
But the Boone Road street view is unattractive.
The architect did point out to me that there weren't any garish red signs on the side of the building that faces a residential area, and they're going to plant evergreens along with other vegetation to soften the very long concrete side of the building. But there's no really no way to make a big box store look like anything but what it is: a big box.
The existing Salem Clinic and other building in the lower left hand corner strike me as having a large parking lot. However, you can see that Costco is going to have a gigantic parking area, which also will serve four much smaller retail buildings along Kuebler Boulevard.
The Costco gas station, with 24 pumps, is in the upper right corner. Salem's first roundabout (we really should have more, given how well they work) is shown midway down 27th Avenue.
Regarding the ancillary retail buildings in the shopping center, my snap impression was They look exactly like every other building of that sort built in Salem during the past few years.
PacTrust has labeled each as "Coffee" or "Deli," apparently in a hope that neighbors opposed to the development can be bought off by a promise of a latte or sandwich to soothe the pain of the Costco right next door. (Forgive the shadow; I didn't want to ask the person to move just to have a shadowless photo.)
The scale of the proposed Costco is shown in this image that compares it with the current Costco on Mission Street. It is considerably larger, with more fueling stations. It's true that the proposed Costco would have four vehicle access points, but most people would reach the Costco via Keubler Boulevard, exiting either on Battle Creek Road or 27th Avenue.
So the concern of neighbors about traffic back-ups seems justified.
I listened to a neighbor ask the Costco architect about semi-truck deliveries, as she was worried about back-up beeping noise in the middle of the night. The architect said that deliveries are indeed made outside of the hours the store is open, but neighbors could ask City of Salem officials to require that more deliveries be made in the early morning, rather than late at night.
She didn't seem reassured.
Here's what happens next, according to a friend who spoke with the City planner who's working on the Costco application. The application hasn't been approved yet, but reportedly it would be a staff-level decision -- unless one or more City Council members ask that it get a hearing at a Council meeting.
Given the level of opposition to Costco, this seems likely, if not assured. I believe the planner has until July 6 to recommend approval or denial of the Costco application. Then there would be a two-week public comment period. A final decision would be made by August 1.
I don't know how an appeal of the decision would be handled -- whether by a hearings officer, the City Council, or the Land Use Board of Appeals.
As I noted at the start of this post, what's most bothersome to me about this Costco issue is how powerless neighbors feel in the face of big-money development interests. I realize this isn't new news here in Salem. For a long time developers have called the shots, and residents have had to put up with where those shots landed.
Last night I heard people talk about what could be done about this, both in regard to the current Costco proposal and long-term. Revisions to Salem Comprehensive Plan are in the works, to my understanding. Maybe these will put a halt, or at least slow down, giant shopping centers being built on the periphery of the city, to the detriment of the urban core.
A revision to the City Charter also was talked about, a subject I know next to nothing about.
I'll end by noting that someone told me that fairly recently another meeting about this development was held at the South Salem Seniors building. Reportedly about 175 concerned citizens attended, including several city councilors, Tom Andersen and Chris Hoy.
Nobody showed up from Costco or PacTrust.
This shows an unhealthy arrogance on the part of the would-be developers of the Kuebler Boulevard property. Apparently they feel that all they need to do is talk with City staff, then get their application rubber-stamped by compliant City of Salem officials. Communicating with people in the neighborhood who would have to live with a giant Costco... unnecessary.
Shameful? Yes. The way things typically are done here in Salem? Unfortunately, that's also a yes.
Lastly, anyone who wants to stay in touch with the Costco application should email the South Gateway Neighborhood Association person: [email protected]