The site of the proposed Kuebler Gateway Shopping Center in South Salem pictured September 2018. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

The Salem City Council will once again consider a proposed shopping center, anchored by a Costco, on Kuebler Blvd. once the public has a chance to comment.

People have until Tuesday, July 28 at 5 p.m. to comment on the proposed development and until Aug. 12 to submit rebuttals to comments posted on the city’s website.

Those who would like to submit comments can email [email protected].

The comment period follows years of conflict between PacTrust Realty, a Portland developer seeking to build a nearly 200,000-square-foot shopping center on a vacant lot in south Salem, and nearby residents who say the development will have adverse impacts on neighborhood traffic and white oaks that would be cut down or transplanted during development.

In Dec. 2018, Salem City Council denied PacTrust’s application for a Costco store, a retail fueling station and four retail buildings on the 23-acre property, because the proposal didn’t fit the permitted use. PacTrust obtained a rezoning in 2006 to allow for development, but neighbors have argued the project has since grown beyond the small shopping center originally planned for the site.

City council’s decision was appealed to Oregon’s Land Use Board of Appeals, which determined the city’s decision contained errors and remanded it back to the city.

On Aug. 14, the land use board said the city had not properly addressed whether PacTrust has a "vested right" to the property after it spent more than $3 million on nearby road improvements and rezoning the field between Battle Creek Road and 27th Avenue.

That same day, PacTrust Realty filed a suit in federal court seeking nearly $10 million in damages.

Residents have submitted comments to city council since March, with a majority asking councilors to deny the developer again when council considers the proposal at its Sept. 28 meeting.

Glenn Baly, chair of the South Gateway Neighborhood Association, said PacTrust hasn’t considered flaws in its traffic impact analysis completed in 2018. He said the developer needs to go back to the drawing board for a smaller neighborhood shopping center that won’t have such a large regional draw.

“One, it’s too large, it’s not appropriate for that area, second that it’s going to lead to really increased traffic congestion, a negative impact on the surrounding area,” he said.

Baly also took umbrage with the city for not holding a public hearing on the matter.

The city held a public hearing on the application in Dec. 2018 and said it hasn’t changed substantively since then.

In public comment documents, Greg Felker said PacTrust dishonored the pledge it made in 2007 when it said the area would become a small neighborhood shopping center.

“The tremendous negative impact on transportation in this part of the city will impose great costs on local homeowners and many tens of thousands of daily commuters. If the city allows unscrupulous business practices like this to prevail, then by competitive pressure they will crowd out honest development practices,” Felker said.

Salem attorney Karl Anuta, who is representing three neighbors fighting the shopping center, hired an engineering firm to conduct its own traffic survey earlier this year, according to an email he sent the council on July 10

The traffic count analysis argued that PacTrust’s traffic impact analysis done in 2018 was inadequate and didn’t factor in seasonal traffic increases.

“It is likely that the Commercial Street/Kuebler Boulevard intersection will experience an increase of over 400 trips in the weekday PM peak hour and over 500 trips in the Saturday peak hour. This omission is not even close to meeting city code, with the proposed development's traffic exceeding the threshold by up to ten times greater than the allowed amount,” read the Greenlight Engineering analysis.

In a letter to council dated June 16, the attorney representing PacTrust, Wendie Kellington, said traffic impacts has been exhaustively reviewed and vetted by city staff, the Oregon Department of Transportation and PacTrust’s traffic engineers.

“The proposal’s compliance with city site plan review traffic standards is a settled issue that need not be revisited. Accordingly, PacTrust requests that the city address only the vested right issue that LUBA remanded,” Kellington said.

Kellington also argued it was necessary to remove the white oak trees and that PacTrust would not “remove” any “significant” tree, that instead the company plans to transplant eight of them.

“While there can be no guarantee of their survival, PacTrust will follow all recommendations in the arborist’s report to provide the trees with the best chance of survival during and after transplant. The cost of the replanting effort is not insignificant – the cost is in excess of $450,000 – but it is an effort the applicants are willing to undertake to resolve the controversy concerning the “significant” trees,” she said. 

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Have a story tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected] or @daisysaphara.