Planning Commission says ‘yes’ to North Auburn Wal-Mart-Costco-type store

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
-A +A
A Wal-Mart-Costco-type store in North Auburn won approval today from the Placer County Planning Commission. But opponents of Roseville developer Jim Conkey’s plans for a 155,000-square-foot big box store near Luther Road and Highway 49 are already vowing to appeal the decision to the Board of Supervisors and – if necessary – battle Bohemia in court. Planning commissioners voted 6-1 to approve a conditional use permit that allows commercial development to proceed on the 18-acre parcel. The panel also certified environmental clearances required by the state on hot-button issues like traffic, air pollution and noise. In all, Conkey agreed to nearly 140 conditions placed by the county on the permit, including a fence up to eight feet tall as a sound barrier between the store and the Canal Street neighborhood. “I don’t know what else I can do,” Conkey told the commission at today's hearing. A count showed 23 of 35 speakers against either the project as a whole or the possibility that a Wal-Mart store would locate on what is now a vacant parcel once occupied by a lumber mill. The anti-Wal-Mart sentiment was countered by 10 speakers who supported the project on the basis of job creation, property rights and more shopping opportunities. Two people had neutral comments. An estimated 120 people filled the Planning Commission chambers in North Auburn. Before the meeting, Wal-Mart opponents were told by commission Chairman Gerry Brentnall that the hearing had to do with permit approvals. “This isn’t a referendum on Wal-Mart,” Brentnall said. Scott Finley of the County Counsel’s Office said that no votes in the planning approval process – including potential design review decisions – would be based on whether a Wal-Mart would be built. That didn’t deter speakers from airing their misgivings about the world’s largest retailer. Jason Long, an Auburn resident for 30 years, said he would move if a store the size envisioned goes in because of its pricing impact on small business. Sandy Ferguson said she couldn’t understand how any reasonable person couldn’t see the gridlock that will occur on Highway 49 if the store goes in. Auburn’s Kari Bartley said part of the reason she moved to Auburn was to avoid living near big-box stores. The proposal found support from 40-year Auburn resident Elaine Ashby, who objected to governmental barriers being placed in the way of the development. “It’s a free country, I thought,” Ashby said. “It’s time to step aside and let him do his business.” “It’s the greatest thing to come along since the wagon,” Ben Hauser said. Hauser said his family donated property that allowed construction of Highway 49 through the area. “I used to ride by bike down the middle of the highway,” Hauser said. “If we didn’t have the influx of everybody from L.A., I could still do that.” On the commission, Ken Denio, Harry Crabb, Gerry Brentnall, Richard Johnson, Jeffrey Moss and Larry Sevison voted in favor of approving the conditional-use permit and environmental documentation. Mickey Gray, 5th District Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery’s appointee, didn’t join in the discussion but voted against approvals. Conkey reiterated at the meeting that no decision has been made on what business will occupy the development. But at one point, in discussing the site plan, he did say that it was tailored to Costco. “This is a Costco site plan and this is what they want,” Conkey said. Lee Lively, a leader with Bohemia opposition group Alliance for Protection of our Auburn Community Environment, advised the planning panel not to persist with what he called the Costco charade. After the meeting, Lively said his group would appeal the planning panel’s decision to the board of supervisors, setting up a potential legal action if the plan gains approval there. Appeals can be lodged with the county up to 10 calendar days after a planning commission decision. Under county regulations, the board must hear the appeal within 90 days after that. Typically, they’re heard within one to two months.