North Auburn Costco/Wal-Mart developer scraps Canal Street access plan

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The developer of a Costco- or Wal-Mart-type store in North Auburn has tossed nearby residents a giant olive branch. Bohemia Properties developer Jim Conkey has abandoned his initial plan to use Canal Street as a secondary access to the 18-acre property. The site, envisioned as a 155,000-square-foot retail store, is located off Highway 49 near Luther Road. Steve Cavolt, Bohemia project coordinator, said Wednesday that Conkey commissioned a follow-up traffic study to ones already commissioned by the county that showed a single access point off Highway 49 to the project could handle the additional traffic. With Conkey and Supervisor Jim Holmes advocating for a single-access point that Bohemia neighbors had strongly favored in recent public meetings, Canal Street would provide access to the site only for pedestrians, cyclists and emergency vehicles, Cavolt said. Cavolt said Placer County Public Works Department staff and Caltrans had looked at the new traffic study numbers and agreed to support a single access point off Highway 49 at Hulbert Way. Bohemia Properties has also decided to scrap plans to pay for and construct a signalized intersection at Canal Street and Luther Road. Bohemia initially thought the signal would be welcomed by neighborhoods surrounding the project. But Conkey quickly learned that what was going to be a near $400,000 expenditure for the project was widely condemned as potentially unsafe. Cavolt said that as well as bowing to demands for a single access point off Highway 49 and not installing a new traffic signal, Bohemia is also planning to increase its landscaping along Canal Street in front of a sound wall. Two rows of evergreens will now be planted, he said. Cavolt said Conkey believes Bohemia has addressed all of the major issues standing in the way of the project by responding to residents’ concerns. “We now feel we can move forward with a project that is going to be very beneficial to the community,” Cavolt said. “It will create jobs, keep money local and, hopefully, attract businesses like Trader Joe’s next door.” Supervisor Jim Holmes said he worked with Conkey to help remove what he considers one of the big stumbling blocks to the project. “I’m pleased to see this happen because of the traffic issues,” he said. “Luther Road has always been a challenge because of its topography.” Cavolt said Bohemia environmental and use-permit clearances could be before the Placer County Planning Commission May 27. While the access issue appears to be settled, the question of what kind of store would be located there remains a source of controversy. Conkey is asking for approvals that would allow everything from a commercial complex with several buildings to retail “big box” buildings that could house a Wal-Mart or Costco. Conkey attempted to build a Wal-Mart on the site in the 1990s but ran into strong community opposition. This time around, he has said Costco is the frontrunner but nothing has been made official. Dan Tomich, a North Auburn resident, said he’d be in favor of a Costco. That would knock off valuable time from the 28-mile drive he now makes to South Placer County, where the nearest Costco is now located, he said. But Tomich doesn’t want a Wal-Mart. “I’ve never been a Wal-Mart shopper because of everything I’ve ever read or heard about their poor treatment of employees,” he said. Joe Marman, a resident of the nearby Spring Meadows development, said four homeowners associations were girding for a fight over Canal Street access. “I think it would go a long ways to make us drop our fight,” Marman said. “Canal is a tiny, residential street that couldn’t handle the extra traffic.” Marman added that while he still doesn’t like the idea of a Wal-Mart on the property “it won’t be our major fight.” Lee Lively, treasurer of the Fiddler Green Homeowners Association, said he believed the county was never going to accept the secondary Canal Street access. Now he’s left wondering about the increase in traffic on the lone access point. “Frankly, I’m wondering why Caltrans would allow the extra traffic on Highway 49,” Lively said. Lively added that the homeowners associations won’t be resting easy until after they see what the Planning Commission approves.