It’s springtime in Cornelius, Oregon, but the proposed Wal-Mart supercenter is a cold as ice. On August 6, 2005, Sprawl-Busters reported that after being rejected in Hillsboro, Oregon, in Washington County, the retailer, and its developer, PACLand, had turned its gaze to Cornelius. Wal-Mart’s proposal started out as a 204,278 s.f. superstore on 16 acres of land. A citizen’s group, Cornelius First was formed to fight the proposal. At the time, the President of the Cornelius Chamber of Commerce told the Oregonian newspaper, “I really feel that we have sufficient of that type of business. We need more of a small-town flavor.” The project hearings began in December of 2005. PACLand, the developer, asked the city to rezone a portion of residential land to commercial. The Cornelius City Council by one vote approved a comprehensive land use plan amendment in February, 2006. Cornelius First appealed the city’s approval to the State Land Use Board of Appeals. Traffic was a major concern at the site. Wal-Mart’s developer estimated less than 6,800 car trips to the store, which was clearly a self-serving figure in the absence of a independent study. Wal-Mart offered about 10% of the funding needed to improve the intersection near its proposed store — but state taxpayers would have to foot the balance of at least $1 million. One opponent told The Argus newspaper, “It appears to me the Cornelius mayor is on the fast track for approval. I don’t think he takes into account Wal-Mart’s potential negative impacts on his community.” In September of 2006, the LUBA ruled against the residents. Wal-Mart said it would break ground as early as January, 2007. Cornelius First argued to the LUBA that the City Council did not address how a Wal-Mart could cause traffic problems and threaten the surrounding neighborhood and city’s economy. The board dismissed those arguments largely on technicalities. “They got us for not being specific enough, for being too late with some items — outside the closed record,” said Tracy Irwin, the organizer of Cornelius First. “We were kind of a group of amateurs. We did our very best starting from nothing. We had been trying to acquire the services of a land use attorney, but it came after the record had closed on the zone change, so the information that we got after we examined the record was too late.” After the LUBA sided with the city, the Mayor was quoted as saying, “I was talking to our city manager last night and told him if we have any other residential areas in town on the main drag, we need to look at changing them to commercial (zoning) now so we don’t have to go through this again and be accused of doing it for one company or one store.” Which is clearly what the city did. Wal-Mart said it would wait out the 21-day appeal period before advertising for construction bids — even though Cornelius First said it would not appeal the LUBA ruling in court. Wal-Mart said it would take 9 to 11 months to build the store. Over the years of wrangling, citizen opposition managed to shrink the store down from 204,278 s.f. to 154,000 s.f. After losing the LUBA vote, Cornelius First’s Irwin was quoted as saying she hoped her worst fears about Wal-Mart would not come to pass. “I would love it in five years if someone came up to me and told me that I was Chicken Little. Hopefully Wal-Mart won’t be a town-killer.” This week, two years and nine months after first proposing their superstore, Wal-Mart announced that the Cornelius project would be delayed — the 58th delay or cancellation the company has announced since last June. The Oregonian newspaper said residents won’t be seeing a Wal-Mart in Cornelius for “another couple of years.” The city’s director of development and operations said that Wal-Mart has shrunk its footprint, but not yet submitted its plans to the city. Now city officials say they will not see those plans until the fall of 2008, and that Wal-Mart would not go out to bid on the plans until the spring of 2009. Based on this timetable, the store would not be open until sometime in 2010.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman told the newspaper three months ago that a “sluggish business climate” had forced Wal-Mart to reanalyze its planned stores last summer, canceling some and delaying others. It cannot be known at this point if Wal-Mart will ever build this supercenter in Cornelius. The closest Wal-Mart store to Cornelius now is in McMinnville, Oregon, roughly 21 miles to the south. In the neighboring community of Forest Grove, Mayor Richard Kidd thinks the traffic plan presented by PACLand in the Cornelius case was inadequate. He complained that neither the city of Cornelius nor PACLand had come up with sufficient money to do a real impact study on one problem intersection on Highway 47. But the Cornelius planner told the Oregonian that added traffic is one of the prices of new development. “It’s obvious when you have a vacant property and you develop it with any kind of commercial development, that’s going to impact the use on your system,” the planner said. “But we have vacant property all over town, the city needs commercial development.” One local merchant objected to the idea that Wal-Mart was good for economic development. “We’re a small business, family-run business town,” he said. “I think it’s going to fundamentally change one of the things that I treasure about this town and this community.” Readers are urged to email the Mayor of Cornelius(elected after the Wal-Mart decision), Bill Bash, at [email protected] with the following message: “Dear Mayor Bash, Wal-Mart has delayed or cancelled 58 superstore projects since last June — including the delay in Cornelius. You really can’t count on them ever to build that store. It’s a decision in which local residents will have no involvement. You say that Cornelius is ‘Oregon’s Family Town,’ yet suburban sprawl by national chain stores will change the character of your small community for many years to come. The city should never have rezoned land for PACLand. It gave the appearance of changing the zoning rules to accommodate one specific project. I urge you to make sure that land is never again rezoned at the demand of a retail developer, and to suggest instead that Cornelius end this big box debate by passing a zoning ordinance that limits the size of retail buildings to 65,000 s.f. Make the national chains fit into Cornelius — not the reverse.”