The south end of a field where a the Kuebler Gateway Shopping Center is proposed. Oregon white oak trees could pose problems for plans to build a sprawling shopping center on Kuebler Boulevard. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

John Miller says he’s having more trouble getting to work every day, despite his office being less than a mile from his home.

His office, a sylvan office park just south of Kuebler Boulevard, is near a lot of growth and development. That feeling could ramp up if the proposed Kuebler Gateway Shopping Center is built. Miller worries about both the traffic and the ambiance.

“I think the sea of asphalt that this would result in, with well over 1,000 cars, will just be a blight,” he said.

Miller joins a chorus of neighbors in opposing the sprawling retail plaza, currently under review by the city of Salem. They say it will ramp up cars on the already busy Kuebler Boulevard and steer more drivers into quiet neighborhood streets.

Neighbors worry the development would also doom a stand of Oregon white oak trees currently on the property, between 27th Avenue and Battle Creek Road.

“The loss of the oaks tears at my heart and the loss of the wetlands as well,” Miller said. “The site cries for a thoughtful, carefully balanced plan and we have yet to see one.”

Tensions will likely flare this week, when the city decides whether to approve the final site plan. The city must decide whether the location is suitable for the proposed, nearly 200,000-square-foot shopping center.

Lisa Anderson-Ogilvie, deputy community development director, said she expects any decision to be appealed. If appealed, the project would either head to a hearings examiner or to Salem City Council.

As proposed, the Kuebler Gateway Shopping Center would be anchored by Costco Wholesale, comprising 168,500 square feet. Plans include a gas station and four retail buildings that add 21,000 square feet. More than 1,000 parking spaces would serve it.

Two medical office buildings already have been built on the southwest corner of the property.

Costco declined to comment for this story, as did PacTrust, the Portland-based commercial real estate developer proposing the shopping center.

The ‘stop’ signs

Last summer, Dan Reid stopped two neighbors on a sidewalk to talk about whether they, like him, had heard more often the sounds of speeding cars on their street.

The timing was right, Reid said. A car blew through a stop sign going at least 40 miles per hour, estimated Reid, a retired air traffic controller.

“They didn’t look left or right. We were in complete shock,” Reid said.

Traffic and traffic impacts are Reid and his neighbor’s banner to oppose the retail plaza.

Cars drive along Kuebler Boulevard and Battle Creek Road, near the field where the Kuebler Gateway Shopping Center is proposed. Neighbors would appeal an approval of the project over concerns it would congest the area. (Troy Brynelson/Salem Reporter)

In 2006, when PacTrust laid out blueprints to rezone the property to allow such a shopping center, neighbors fought. More than 120 neighbors signed a petition opposing the rezone, according to city documents, but the city ultimately agreed to rezone.

With firm plans now to build the shopping center, almost 800 neighbors have signed an online petition to express dismay.

 “This development will not only attract local trips but also trips on the (Interstate 5) corridor from surrounding Salem areas,” the petition said. “It will worsen the existing condition on Kuebler Boulevard by creating unwanted congestion and backups.”

A traffic analysis conducted for the project estimates there could be up to 12,000 daily trips to Costco and the fuel pad. The analysis does not account for other retailers.

However, since the rezoning, PacTrust has helped pay to improve roads in the area. Kuebler Boulevard was widened from Commercial Street east to Interstate 5 in 2016. Turn lanes were added to Kuebler Boulevard’s intersections with 27th Avenue and Battle Creek Road, as well as the intersection of Battle Creek Road and Boone Road.

Reid still worries those trips will add to speeding traffic through his quiet streets in the Morningside neighborhood, where he said natural growth of the city has already burdened nearby streets in the last few years.

“That was benign growth,” he said, contrasting today’s growth with more housing projects and businesses like Amazon arriving. “What do the next five or 10 years hold with all this added development?”

Traffic also is a major concern in the South Gateway Neighborhood Association. Glenn Baly, chair of the association, said about 175 neighbors recently attended an association meeting to overwhelmingly condemn the project.

Baly said their main concern is the flow of traffic on Kuebler Boulevard. Costco’s current location, from where it wants to move, is better suited, neighbors argue.

“It really comes down to one issue: Kuebler is a parkway. That means it’s supposed to have limited access, but it’s the main site in which people go through South Salem and access I-5,” he said. “It’s currently at two lanes. Where you see the current Costco, it’s at three lanes on Mission, which allows for more traffic to come in.”

Branching decisions

There are several scenarios for the shopping plaza in the coming months.

Planners can accept the proposal, accept it with conditions or deny the project. What those conditions could be is not clear.

However, any of those decisions are open for appeal.

“We’ll have to look at (the city’s decision) and make a decision on that,” Baly said.

Another complicating factor is the property’s grove of Oregon white oaks. Those trees are deemed “significant” in Salem city code and to remove them requires special permitting.

According to Anderson-Ogilvie, those permits are granted only if they meet certain criteria. One criterion is whether the trees prevent construction “of a commercial or industrial facility.”

That is PacTrust’s argument: that it cannot build the Costco and the fueling station without chopping down the Oregon white oaks.

“We have to determine that it’s not only a commercial facility, but that in order to build that it is necessary to take down the trees,” Anderson-Ogilvie said.

Then, in the case of an appeal, the project would go to a hearings officer unless the city council intervenes.

In either case, the city must have a decision by Jan. 2. After an application is deemed “complete,” Oregon land use law requires a decision to be made within 120 days. Salem city planners deemed the application complete on Sept. 4.

Have a tip? Contact reporter Troy Brynelson at 503-357-3207, email at troy@salemreporter.com or on Twitter @TroyWB.