Small change in store design sends issue to Planning Commission

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Construction is underway on a Walmart supercenter on Dartmouth Street in Tigard. The retailer needs approval from the city to add an additional structure to the plans.For more than a year, angry Tigard residents have complained they never got the chance to voice their opinion about a Walmart superstore setting up shop.

But at a meeting next week, those citizens might get their chance to raise some issues with the proposed superstore.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, will go before the Tigard Planning Commission on Monday for a proposed change to its plans, in order to build a large recycling area behind the building.

It’s the first public meeting about Walmart the Planning Commission has had since Walmart purchased the site in 2012.

Walmart has been deep in construction of its 137,900-square-foot supercenter along Southwest Dartmouth Street for months.

The project was first announced years ago, but neighbors said they didn’t know anything about the plans for the site until Walmart sent a letter to neighbors letting them know about the construction last year.

Then things got ugly.

Walmart opponents such as Tigard First said the city kept the project out of the limelight, stifling public testimony on whether neighbors wanted to see the store come to town.

In truth, retail giant Target had originally planned to build a store on the site as late as 2009. The city approved plans for Target to begin construction, but Walmart later purchased the land — and the already approved plans — allowing the retailer to build its store as long as it followed Target’s original plans.

“They bought it as is,” said Gary Pagenstecher, associate planner for the city in charge of the Walmart site. “It’s approved.”

That is, until now.

The addition of a recycling center brings the subject back to the table for discussion.

The 1,356-square-foot outdoor recycling area would provide storage for items to be recycled or re-purposed, Walmart claimed in its application to the city, and would house items such as cardboard bales, wood pallets and plastic crates.

It’s a small change to a massive operation, but Pagenstecher said it needs approval from the Planning Commission in order to move forward.

Walmart has become a lightning rod issue in town, and city officials plan for a large crowd to be on hand to testify against the Walmart. Pagenstecher cautioned opponents that they shouldn’t get their hopes up if they think the Planning Commission will be able to somehow stop the Walmart from opening.

The commission won’t be able to pull its already approved plans. It will only be able to comment on the modifications Walmart hopes to make to the building.

The commission will consider how the additional recycling center fits within city codes, such as zoning, standards for the Tigard Triangle and how many trees will be cut down for the additional structure.

“There has to be a relationship between what is being proposed and what criteria apply,” Pagenstecher said.

Anyone is able to make a comment about the plans, Pagenstecher said, but the commission will only be able to use city code to approve or deny the changes.

“They will either be addressing specific criteria, or suggesting that some other standards or regulation applies and address that,” Pagenstecher said. “You can can go up there and express your opinion about God and love and everything, and they will say, ‘Thank you very much, but that’s not really appropriate or applicable.’”

Pagenstecher noted it’s hard to keep people from coming and expressing themselves on an issue like Walmart.

“People are emotional about this, and they will do what they want,” Pagenstecher said.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. Monday in City Hall, 13125 S.W. Hall Blvd.

Editor's note: This story initially called the planned recyling area a building. According to Walmart, the structure is "merely a screened wall area to screen the area from view."

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