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Potential neighbors of North Auburn big-box store fight to keep it off their street

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Plans for a big-box Wal-Mart or Costco-type store off Highway 49 are getting a rocky reception. And much of the opposition is revolving around traffic concerns. At a meeting late Tuesday, opponents of a plan to make North Auburn’s Canal Street into one of two access points for the store were able to gain the support of the North Auburn Municipal Advisory Council. The advisory council had no opposing votes on a motion asking for no access to the commercial development from Canal Street, off Luther Road. The other planned access point is Hulbert Way, off Highway 49. The motion came with the proviso that a gated, emergency-access road could be developed. Tracy Lane’s Carol Arvay told council members that if 15 percent of the estimated 6,000 vehicle trips to the store ended up using Canal Street, it would mean 900 more vehicles daily on the street. “Nothing more than an emergency access on Canal Street,” Arvay demanded. The council heard from several speakers who condemned the Canal Street access route to the rear entrance of the 155,000-square-foot Bohemia Retail development project. Carl Coleman, a Canal Street resident, said that he’s concerned about the increased number of vehicles and asked whether it was absolutely mandatory for the developer to have a second access point other than for emergency vehicles. The 16-acre property sits between Highway 49 and Canal Street, north of Luther Road. Over the past two decades, plans for a Wal-Mart and medium-income housing were approved and then scrapped by the property owner. Area resident David Keyes asked project planner Gerry Haas if county staff had any contact with Costco, which developer Jim Conkey has said is the target tenant for the site. Haas said there has been no contact. “That is a concern,” Keyes said. “That Costco is being used to sell us a Wal-Mart.” Auburn-area residents mounted a concerted drive in the late 1990s to stop a Wal-Mart, which was proposed for the site. Dale Smith, a nearby resident, who was a leader in the anti-Wal-Mart movement 15 years ago, spoke out Tuesday not only against the Canal Street access proposal but also the amount of traffic that the store would create on Highway 49 and surrounding roads. “I’m no stranger to that property,” Smith said. “I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind would want to increase traffic on Auburn’s Blood Alley (Highway 49 north of the development). The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t fit.” Others also objected to a potential spike in air pollution in the area, traffic increases on nearby roads, potential destruction of a large, heritage oak tree on the Bohemia property and the potential for overnight camping at a big-box store like Wal-Mart. No one during the public comment part of the meeting spoke in favor of the project. Council members were given an overview on an environmental report with several possible scenarios for the property. Conkey has asked that environmental reports and future entitlements not directly identify a potential tenant but has said he’s working with Costco on the project.