Heated Wal-Mart/Costco debate goes to Placer County supes Tuesday

Includes timeline on Bohemia site since 1940s
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The heated debate that has followed plans for a 155,000-square-foot Wal-Mart-Costco-type supercenter in North Auburn reaches the Placer County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. And while the focus has been on what would be the largest store in the Auburn area, questions are also continuing to swirl around the impact of the development’s planned nine-pump fueling station. Developer Jim Conkey and supporters of the project will square off against opponents who – under the name Alliance for the Protection of the Auburn Community Environment (APACE) – launched an appeal soon after the Placer County Planning Commission vote in July to OK the project. The group contends the environmental impact report for the Bohemia development is inadequate on traffic, air quality, urban decay and other impacts. Lee Lively, an APACE member, said that denial of the group’s appeal could set up a lengthy court fight. “I certainly hope it doesn’t come to that,” Lively said. “I don’t know why our government is allowing a facility that is detrimental to our local retail businesses and also going to trash the neighborhood.” It’s an argument that Bohemia project coordinator Steve Cavolt says carries no weight, particularly after a recommendation made public Friday by county Planning Department staff to deny the appeal. “I’m hopeful, because this project is in the best interests of the community,” Cavolt said. “It will provide hundreds of much-needed construction jobs and – once completed – will provide about 350 full- and part-time jobs.” The project also includes a nine-pump fueling station that has raised questions about impacts on traffic. The Bohemia plan approved by the Planning Commission calls for one entrance and exit – from already busy Highway 49. Tom Dwelle, president of Auburn-based Nella Oil, said that the nine planned dispensers represent 18 fueling stations. Nella owns three stations in the Auburn market, the closest at Atwood Road and Highway 49. The amount of fuel being pumped from an average Costco station would be three to four times as much as from one Nella station with the corresponding increase in traffic, Dwelle said. Nella’s own study indicates backups at the traffic light on Hulbert Way – the lone entrance and exit at the development, Dwelle said. Costco’s business model is to underprice its gas to outsell its competition, Dwelle said. “They cannot service 18 fueling stations with one entrance and one exit,” he said. “There will be an average stack of 27 cars for the light to get onto Highway 49. It’s a disaster for traffic flows.” Cavolt said that the development’s traffic analysis shows both traffic and noise studies are in compliance with regulations. “Tom Dwelle’s comments are very self-serving because he doesn’t want the competition,” Cavolt said. “Placer County and Caltrans are good with the studies.” Ben Hauser, 78, a lifelong Auburn resident whose great-grandfather settled in the area in 1849, said he thinks a Costco or Wal-Mart is a good idea for the property. His family once owned the site as part of 150 acres they had on both sides of what is now Highway 49, he said. “We need jobs and the town needs all kinds of development,” Hauser said. “This would be a tremendous shot in the arm for the state and the community. I wish they’d build three or four of them immediately.” Hauser said he recently needed to buy a belt but had to go to Roseville to buy one at Penney’s because there was nothing in Auburn. “This town has nothing,” Hauser said. Victoria Connolly, another APACE member, said supervisors should listen closely to what Dwelle has to say, as well as the other speakers opposed to the project. The site is located north of the Luther Road and Highway 49 intersection. The pumps would be on the southwest portion of the site. “When Tom Dwelle first raised his concerns at the MAC, he raised issues from a practical standpoint and, being a businessman, I would have thought he would be pro-business.” ------------------------- Bohemia Project appeal hearing> When: 1:30 p.m. Tuesday Where: Board of Supervisors Chambers, 175 Fulweiler Ave, Auburn ------------------------ TIMELINE 1941-45 Project site developed during World War II as the Cal-Ida Lumber Mill, producing crates for fruits and vegetables 1969 Cal-Ida sold to the DeGeorgio Corp. in 1969 1978 Mill bought by Bohemia Lumber Co. in 1978 1983 Lumber mill operations shut down 1984 All structures had been demolished on property 1989 Environmental documents approved for home-improvement center, retail-office buildings and a 150-unit apartment complex on a site that included what is now the 10-acre Plaza shopping center. Option to build not exercised and expired in 1991. 1992 Wal-Mart store proposed on 18-acre Bohemia site. Project approved by Planning Commission but appeal by neighbors upheld by Board of Supervisors and project denied. 1994 Auburn-Bowman Community Plan changes site’s designation from industrial to commercial 1995 Revised Wal-Mart plan submitted that eliminated auto center and Canal Street as secondary access. Board and Planning Commission OK’d project but after a lawsuit, plans withdrawn. 2007 Planning Commission considers plan to rezone land for 114-home subdivision. But application withdrawn after 2007 housing market crash 2008 New plan submitted for 155,000 square-foot retail building with fueling station May 2010 Bohemia developer Jim Conkey proposes to change project description to allow emergency-pedestrian access only at Canal Street June 2010 Wal-Mart-Costco-type store on Bohemia site supported on 4-1 vote by North Auburn Municipal Advisory Council July 2010 With Planning Department support, the Placer County Planning Commission votes 6-1 to approve clearances to build the planned 155,000-square-foot store July 2010 Alliance for the Protection of the Auburn Community Environment files an appeal to the Board of Supervisors on the Planning Commission decision Source: Placer County Planning Department, Journal files