Oregon white oaks pictured in September at the proposed site of the Kuebler Gateway Shopping Center. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter files)
Monday night could be check out time for a proposed shopping center in South Salem that’s drawn objections from neighbors.
Salem City Council will hold a hearing Monday on the Kuebler Gateway Shopping Center, a nearly 200,000-square-foot plaza on Kuebler Bouelvard. The plaza would be anchored by a Costco Wholesale, and include four shell buildings and a 30-pump gas station.
Although the city of Salem approved the plaza’s plans Oct. 23, neighbors filed a pair of appeals Nov. 7 over concerns it would be incompatible with the area. They said it will clog nearby streets, will chop down protected trees and pollute the nearby air and water.
Some residents embrace the project as an economic boost.
“What a fantastic opportunity to create work, bring needed shopping and fuel as well as improvements to the area,” wrote Carolyn Schleufer, a South Salem resident, in an email to the city.
City councilors cannot discuss the project until the meeting, but councilor Steve McCoid told Salem Reporter that, in terms of procedure, he believes councilors can really only weigh whether an application follows city code.
“I don’t think people understand that,” he said. “I think people think we have the ability to say no. If they met all those standards and it’s all kosher within the law, they get to build it.”
Turnout for the public hearing could be strong. People have fired in more than 100 comments on the project, according to city documents released Thursday, and Costco sent letters this week to its customers urging them to show support.
“It is a fact of life that individuals who oppose projects tend to make their objections known, while those in favor do not express their views,” wrote Peter Kahn, an executive with Costco. “We are asking that you voice your support for a new Costco at the proposed location.”
Representatives for Costco declined to comment. Representatives for PacTrust, the Portland firm building the shopping center, did not respond to requests for comment.
City planner Aaron Panko responded to neighbors’ concerns in a staff report released Thursday. The report outlines how city code and jurisdiction intersect with the appeals.
According to Panko, the project is still compatible and meets the city’s definition of a shopping center. Even with a fueling station, he writes, the business and traffic will revolve around shopping. He also defended the traffic impact analysis as thorough and reliable, having been reviewed by city staff and the Oregon Department of Transportation.
On most of the environmental concerns, Panko writes the city followed guidelines from state and federal agencies when it comes to air and water quality.
There is one gap: the plaza's stormwater plans predate the last time the city updated its stormwater regulations, in 2014. Panko writes that is OK under the current code. He writes PacTrust has indicated it will comply with earlier regulations.
And city code allows PacTrust to cut down eight Oregon white oaks. City code deems the trees “significant,” but also states they can be felled without a permit if “necessary in connection with construction of a commercial or industrial facility.”
Michael Slater, a Salem resident critical of the project, takes umbrage with the wording — specifically the word 'necessary.'
“From my perspective it’s an arbitrary judgment call that someone in the planning department makes. I don’t think it’s a sufficient safeguard for the Oregon white oaks," he said. "We’re not asking developers to present multiple scenarios under which they can build a building. My sense is what’s 'necessary' is what’s cheapest for the developer.”
Shari Reed, Vice President of PacTrust, said the necessity comes from the size of the project.
In a Nov. 29 letter to the city of Salem, she writes “removal of these trees is necessary because there is no shopping center of the size contemplated that can avoid removal of the eight oak trees.”
City planners recommend city council upholds its Oct. 23 approval. If the project is approved, it’s possible neighbors could appeal to the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-575-9930, [email protected] or @TroyWB.