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Anti-Wal-Mart group sets table for supes showdown over North Auburn store

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The stage is set for a Board of Supervisors showdown on a Wal-Mart-Costco-type store in North Auburn. APACE (Alliance for Protection of our Auburn Community Environment), a group formed to oppose a big-box store on 18-acre Bohemia retail project property, has filed an appeal with the county on the July 8 Placer County Planning Commission decision to approve the project. The Board of Supervisors has 90 days from the filing date to hold an appeal hearing and is likely to set a time for August or September. APACE contends that the project’s environmental impact report is incomplete on several important issues, including traffic, air quality, urban decay and the cumulative impacts of having one entrance and exit to the site off Highway 49. But a spokesman for Bohemia developer Jim Conkey said that APACE is more interested in stopping anything from being built on the site. APACE’s Victoria Connolly said that the proposed 155,000 square-foot store is too big to build next to a residential community and a big-box store would provide unfair competition to established businesses. “Basically it has to do with maintaining and improving the quality of life in Auburn,” Connolly said. Steve Cavolt, spokesman for Conkey, said that near-unanimous votes at both the North Auburn Advisory Council and Planning Commission, plus support for the project from county staff, demonstrate the developer’s diligence in providing a project that attempts to answer neighbor concerns. “The APACE group represents a small minority of people who don’t want it,” Cavolt said. “But it’s their problem. It’s been zoned commercial since the 1960s, we now find out.” Cavolt added that opposition to the Highway 49 access comes after Conkey answered neighborhood concerns and halted plans to use Canal Street as a secondary access to the site. “What APACE is saying is they want to re-open Canal Street,” Cavolt said. "The bottom line is they don’t want to see any development out there.” Jerry Kopp, owner of Auburn’s Uptown Signs, said the project should move forward as soon as possible and he’s not concerned about its presence in the business community. “We need to get people back to work and quit piddling around,” Kopp said. “From construction work to employees at the new store, this will help.” At Highway 49’s Grocery Outlet in Auburn, owner-operator John Stevens said that with so many empty storefronts in the area now, the presence of a big-box store as a competitor is likely to exacerbate the situation. “It’s going to add fuel to the fire,” Stevens said. “I love doing business in Auburn and the message out there now is shop Auburn first but with a Wal-Mart, it’s more about shopping global.” With a Toys for Tots fund raiser and auto show in the Grocery Outlet this past Saturday, Stevens said that local approach and flexibility to help out is what people want. “As far as it affecting us, we’ll continue to do what we need to do to sustain a business with extreme values and exceptional customer service,” Stevens said. “Any time you think of competition, you have to be a little concerned – but not overly concerned.” Bob Bartley, a 10-year Auburn resident who owns a home in the subdivision backing up to the Canal Street side of the Bohemia property, said he’s opposed to any big-box store on the now-vacant former mill site. “It’s completely out of character with the neighborhood and completely out of step with the Auburn Bowman Community Plan,” Bartley said. The plan, a blueprint for development developed by the county, requires a low-impact project abutting a residential neighborhood, he said. “I’m concerned about quality of life and property values,” Bartley said. “This is an infringement on my property rights.” -------------------- Bohemia plan -------------------- - 155,000 square-foot retail store - Nine-pump fueling station - 780-space parking lot