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New group forms to stop what they believe will be a Wal-Mart at Auburn site

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A new group has formed to fight what members believe will be a Wal-Mart on a much-debated North Auburn parcel owned by Roseville developer Jim Conkey. Lee Lively, secretary-treasurer of the new APACE group, said there is no doubt in the minds of members that Conkey’s plans are for a Wal-Mart. APACE is a catchy acronym for the unwieldy Alliance for the Protection of the Auburn Community Environment. “We’re certainly not partaking in the charade that we don’t know who the tenants are planned to be,” Lively said. “Of course it’s Wal-Mart.” But a Conkey spokesman said Wednesday that no Wal-Mart contracts have been signed and that the developer has had more discussions over the 18-acre site with Costco. The so-called Bohemia property north of Luther Road is currently going through the Placer County planning process. Conkey is proposing options on the site that include a commercial complex with several buildings or one 155,000-square-foot building that could house a Costco, Wal-Mart or other retailer. Perhaps because Conkey proposed a Wal-Mart for the site 15 years ago and then fought a lengthy but ultimately unsuccessful court battle over developing on the land, the Bohemia project can’t shake the Wal-Mart connection. Steve Cavolt, spokesman for Conkey and the Bohemia project, said it’s an unfair and incorrect presumption. “The bottom line is they’re saying it’s a Wal-Mart – but nobody’s signed,” Cavolt said. “And until the project’s approved, nobody is going to be signed. There’s no discrete effort by the developer or myself to hide anything.” Cavolt said APACE members are the remnants of opposition to the project that are still fighting Bohemia after Conkey agreed last month to scrap plans for a Canal Street access. Neighborhood residents had strongly objected to the secondary access. Conkey now has county and Caltrans support to have one entry point at Hulbert Way, off Highway 49. Cavolt said that opposition to the project has dissipated since then. “Probably 95 percent of the neighbors are OK with it,” Cavolt said. “And the rest of the Auburn community is in total agreement with the project. Basically, there’s a group of people who just don’t want anything there.” Lively said his group has sent out 3,000 mailings in recent days to inform Auburn-area residents about the perceived Wal-Mart project. The group has also set up a web site and Facebook page. APACE will likely be asking the county to recirculate environmental documents because of new traffic information that allowed Canal Street to be abandoned as a Bohemia access point, Lively said. Cavolt said that amounts to a delaying tactic. The developer is aware that further delays could occur if APACE decides to mount a court battle, he added. “What this is going to do is stop a project that will provide construction work and perhaps 350 full- and part-time jobs,” Cavolt said. “They take it to court and the community loses out.” Lively said a court fight would be the next step if supervisors approve the project. “They’re playing fast and loose with traffic-study models and there needs to be a major revision of the environmental impact report,” Lively said. Conkey’s application for environmental approvals and a use permit is now on track to go before the Placer County Planning Commission on June 24 and then proceed to the Board of Supervisors later in the summer – perhaps as early as July.