Should McMinnville allow more big box stores?
Sid Friedman - City’s future rests on good jobs, livability
How will McMinnville grow, work, shop and live in future years? How do we maintain a sustainable, economically prosperous community with stable, family-wage jobs over the long run? Something called an Economic Opportunities Analysis (EOA) may sound dry and technical, but this important document addresses these questions.
The city’s current EOA, adopted in 2001, recognizes that McMinnville’s future rests on a healthy downtown, the expansion and retention of existing businesses, and new employers providing family-wage jobs, such as food and wine production; polymer, steel and plastics manufacturing; insurance and higher education.
McMinnville has an excellent site to grow and attract good-paying, industrial jobs. The site of 90 acres lies inside the city limits on Highway 18, a true gem for McMinnville’s future.
However, last summer, the city allowed landowner/developer Kimco and RPS Development to produce a new Economic Opportunities Analysis. The intent was clear:
“The aim would be to determine whether, and how, the city might rezone Highway 18 property near the airport from industrial to commercial. … Kimco McMinnville … owns 90 acres of industrially zoned land along Three Mile Lane. The company has advised the city it wants to devote some of the land to ‘a regional shopping center.’ ” (News-Register, Aug. 15, 2012).
A city committee is reviewing the developers’ draft EOA. Its task is to consider the long-term interests of all McMinnville residents.
A good EOA asks how we make the most of our unique assets to increase stable, family-wage jobs and enhance livability. Instead, the developers’ EOA would shift the city’s economic development strategy toward low-wage retail on Highway 18. Their EOA asserts a need for very large, commercially-zoned parcels able to accommodate a regional shopping center. Then it asks how that need can be met.
Even though the developers’ Highway 18 property is currently zoned industrial, not commercial, they already are advertising it for a huge, 45-acre regional shopping center with several big-box stores, much like the struggling Keizer Station shopping center RPS developed north of Salem, and which went into financial default. Developer Chuck Sides appears to still be in default.
For comparison, Lowe’s occupies a 12-acre site. The city already has a 24-acre vacant parcel at Highways 18 and 99W, adjoining Lowe’s, Rice Furniture, Albertsons, Roth’s and Bi-Mart. Development could proceed immediately at this vacant site (provided the prospective tenants were willing to lease instead of demanding outright ownership). So the question isn’t whether the city should have more mass merchandisers; it’s where they should locate. There’s already enough properly zoned land for two more Lowe’s-sized merchandisers without re-zoning the 90 acres on Highway 18.
Ninety acres of flat industrial land in the city limits on a free-flowing state highway, near an airport, and in one parcel is an extremely uncommon asset for any city. McMinnville should think long and hard before allowing this prime industrial site to be squandered on low-paying retail development. If converted to commercial uses, it is unlikely McMinnville could ever replace it with an industrial parcel of similar size and quality.
Highway 18 is the bypass route for traffic around McMinnville. Just up the road, Newberg and Dundee are trying to fix their traffic nightmares with an $850 million bypass. One need look no farther than Bend and Seaside for more examples of the costly consequences of allowing retail magnets to locate on bypass routes.
McMinnville is a great place to live, work, shop, and visit; with great neighborhoods and a downtown that nearby cities envy. We need not change course to suit whatever tune a developer calls. As the News-Register said in a recent editorial:
“Livability should be the No. 1 goal as the city considers future economic opportunities. That’s because no number of retail jobs is worth becoming just another suburb.”
Sid Friedman lives on a farm west of Carlton, has served on the county planning commission and is a member of 1000 Friends of Oregon. In his spare time, he hikes and gardens.
Howard Aster - Boost local economy with jobs, jobs, jobs
On both the national and local levels, we know from government statistics and our personal experience that job creation is the No. 1 concern. It is the key to the economic growth of our nation.
The current unemployment level is an unacceptable 7.6 percent on both the national and county levels. When we count citizens who have quit looking or settled for part-time or minimum-wage work, then our unemployment rate moves closer to an incredibly poor 14 percent. And the unemployment rate for our young people is even higher, denying them an opportunity to earn their own way, move out and learn the invaluable lessons gained from work and independence.
Here in McMinnville, we may have the opportunity to change that scenario and give a boost to the McMinnville economy along Highway 18 in the area commonly referred to as Three Mile Lane.
There is a 90-acre parcel of industrially zoned land, and the owners of that land would like to rezone about 30 acres of it along Highway 18 to commercial usage. Current City of McMinnville policy will not allow for taking land out of industrial usage to move it into commercial usage, but a study paid for by the owners could find justification for such a rezoning. It is now being evaluated by an independent panel of our citizens.
If the 30 acres along Three Mile Lane were to be rezoned for commercial usage, it would lend our local economy an economic boost for both the short and long term. We are talking about the possibility of a new Costco or Target right here in McMinnville city limits.
Short-term benefits would result from the construction of the facility, bringing in tens of millions of dollars. Part of that money would help the city pay its employees through the fees charged for construction permits. In addition, streets would be built and buildings designed and erected, providing lots of high-paying construction jobs for young Oregonians.
In the long term, there would be a large-scale creation of permanent jobs. And Costco and Target both have reputations for paying their employees a fair wage with good benefits.
Currently, our local Walmart employs about 150 people. Costco and Target would each employ comparable numbers. Lots of the jobs would not require college degrees, enabling high school graduates to land decent jobs.
The addition of such jobs would stimulate the local economy by increasing the demand for housing. An increase in the building of apartments and homes would employ local carpenters, plumbers, electricians and others. Greater demand for our local grocery stores, retail stores, restaurants and car dealerships would further boost our economy.
Environmentally, it would make sense, because such an enterprise would be less polluting than a huge manufacturing complex. Think of the benefits of having to drive only a couple of miles to a local big box store. How many of us make frequent pilgrimages to the Target in Sherwood or the Costcos in Salem or Tigard? A lot less gasoline would be needed, and our carbon footprint would shrink.
It is clear that the building of a big box store requiring 30 acres would provide our local economy a boost with the creation of many local jobs, while leaving 60 acres in industrial zoning. And if polled, I would bet that a majority of Yamhill County residents would be delighted to have such stores right here in our midst.
Howard Aster, owner of Aster Construction and Aster Realty, has developed more than 400 single-family lots and built 200 single-family homes in McMinnville. He has a master’s degree in education from Linfield College, where he served as an assistant football coach between 1974 and 1980.
Sidonie Winfield - Limit size, restrict new stores to certain areas
The big box stores are coming! The big box stores are coming! For many, big box stores are an abomination not to be tolerated.
However, in McMinnville, big box stores are already here: Walmart, WinCo, Lowe’s and Staples. If we’re going to add more, it makes sense to place them in McMinnville, from a planning point of view. Clustering box stores in one community prevents sprawl; fewer shopping trips saves energy and reduces emissions. The question, then, becomes how to control the arrival of new stores and their visual impact.
Oregon is unique in containing sprawl with its land use laws; non-farm land available for commercial stores is limited. Where does McMinnville have space? Its urban growth boundary sets aside land for a variety of uses, but those uses are not interchangeable. East McMinnville, primarily east of Lafayette Avenue, is zoned industrial and, to maintain community economic balance, must stay open to noncommercial businesses. The corner of Hill Road and Baker Creek Road is slated for homes and a neighborhood commercial area. West of Albertsons would be an ideal fit for Target-type stores to anchor a multi–use shopping center, but restrictions may limit new stores from selling groceries there.
The southern land next to and behind the hospital is left as the primary source of potential development. Due to the presence of the hospital, Evergreen and other businesses on both sides of Highway 18, the argument for placing new buildings on farmland there is moot. But the infection of buildings on farmland has already spread. Additionally, the site has access to a highway for quick trips from outside McMinnville. Because the area has already been built upon, the consideration becomes how to best fit additional large buildings into McMinnville’s aesthetic presence.
Big box stores run from 11,000 square feet for free-standing drug stores such as Walgreens, to the first-generation Walmarts, Lowe’s, and Staples, which range from 60,000 to 140,000 square feet. The average size of Costco is 145,000; for Target, it’s 135,000. Walmart and Target supercenters range from 180,000 to 250,000. Parking to support each store usually is twice the store size.
McMinnville’s zoning ordinances, unlike other well-planned communities, do not include a size cap. The limited availability of commercial-space farmland under Oregon’s land use laws have made it difficult for supercenters to be built, but it would be prudent for the planning commission to add a cap to the planning code of 150,000 square feet on commercial buildings. This limit would prevent potential abandonment of current big box stores to join a supercenter. Even with code-required maintenance of vacant buildings, they become visual holes in the immediate area. And filling ghost stores takes time. Remember how many years before Safeway moved into the vacant Ernst hardware building? A size cap would help prevent sprawl and abandoned buildings as well as forcing infill.
If any new stores are built, McMinnville is fortunate to have strong design standards. Planning codes require roofline and exterior specifications to fit in the community. Landscaping, sidewalks and parking lots with vegetation must provide specific visual buffers. Because of the southern commercial site’s proximity to the South Yamhill River, big box applicants should work with the city to plan for river access. It would be a shame to waste the opportunity for a river walk or park.
If additional big box stores are coming to our town, energy will be saved by centering them here versus driving to Portland or Salem. Farmland elsewhere will be preserved, and the design of the stores will fit in with our community. The infection of “big boxitis” would be at least contained, localized in one area.
Sidonie Winfield lives in McMinnville. She is an attorney and past chair of the McMinnville Planning Commission. She says she spends far, far too much time chauffeuring her progeny to their various activities.
Rob Tracey - Shop as locally as possible, limit size of new stores
Each time we purchase a product or service, we cast a vote on how our money will move through the economic system. I prefer to support businesses likely to recycle money locally, support workers with living wages and other benefits and contribute to the wellbeing and livability of our community. This usually comes down to shopping locally.
You cannot pick up a copy of the News-Register or stroll down Third Street without encountering a list of benefits associated with shopping locally. I’ve taken the notion to heart. Where feasible, I attempt to keep the money I spend circulating through our local economic system.
Shopping locally is defined by degrees. My order of preference is: 1. Locally owned and independent businesses. 2. Independently owned franchised businesses. 3. Small chains encompassing only the county or state; 4. Larger chains. 5. Huge, multi-national chains building big box stores, where money spent ranges farthest from the local economy.
Benefits from keeping purchases local are significant and well-documented. Taxes paid to government are used more efficiently, as most small businesses locate in previously developed areas. They do not lobby for or receive the huge tax moratoriums or costly infrastructure development often demanded by big-box developments.
Greater economic vitality is realized, as each dollar spent with local enterprises circulates three times more than one spent with a chain. Small businesses build community, as unique establishments become meeting places. They place less stress on the environment by consuming less land, carrying more locally made products and locating closer to residents, eliminating car trips to stores on the outskirts of town.
I particularly try to minimize purchases from huge stores. I often find their staff poorly trained, perhaps a result of low wages and lack of significant benefits. In addition to paying their help poorly, they replace locally owned businesses, gobble up significant portions of limited infrastructure development funds and send their profits out of the community.
A 282-page study conducted by the prestigious Wharton School of Economics concludes that these stores locate in “new commercial environments in both urban and rural areas, usually pulling consumers from ‘Main Streets’ downtown and into the … mega-discount stores in adjacent areas situated on formerly industrial zoned areas, replete with more-than-ample blacktop parking lots.
“Furthermore, citizens have begun to feel the effects of social change … . Giant competitors begin to reduce employment on old ‘Main Street.’ Loss of job opportunities for both young and old leads to social instability, crime and violence, and creates a broad negative impact upon the sociology of the community.”
Maine Businesses for Social Responsibility also studied detrimental effects of big box stores. Its study recommended local jurisdictions take the following actions to limit negative effects: limit maximum size, require comprehensive economic and community impact assessments prior to permitting stores larger than, perhaps, 20,000 square feet, establish maximum setback requirements and parking lot sizes, and accelerate permits for infill development to further encourage redevelopment of space downtown.
Having learned all of this, I feel more strongly than ever that McMinnville needs to carefully consider before adding any more monster stores to our local retail environment.
Currently, the city does not have any ordinances regulating the size of retail outlets. This raises a serious caution. If Walmart decides to abandon its current location and build an even larger store, which it has done in many communities, we will be stuck with a vacant mega-retail store and all the detrimental effects that brings.
The McMinnville City Council should declare a moratorium on approval of mega-retail stores until criteria are in place providing for the best interests of our community.
Rob Tracey is retired in McMinnville. He spends his time assisting with various ecological restoration projects, learning to propagate native plants, helping to take care of the native plant garden at the McMinnville Public Library and serving on the board of the Yamhill Watershed Stewardship Fund.