By editorial board • 

City on verge of decision on crucial element of its future

On Dec. 13, 2013, Evergreen International Aviation and several of its subsidiaries filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. Within months, Evergreen’s sprawling Highway 18 campus went on the market, and its associated museum campus, just across the road, soon followed.

The city had created a Three Mile Lane Overlay District in 1981, and updated it in 1994, to help guide development of the 1,340-acre Three Mile Lane corridor. However, hundreds of acres remained stubbornly vacant when the Evergreen collapse threatened to send the already sputtering development process into full reverse.

That helped spur the city to embark on a more ambitious Three Mile Lane Area Plan, designed to guide corridor development for the next 50 years. Emerging from a years-long process, it won planning commission approval back on March 17 and is now in the late stages of city council consideration, with a crucial airing by the council on tap Tuesday.

But let’s be clear about one thing: The final formulation of this plan is not up to public officials or private developers — and most definitely not to newspaper editors. It is up to the citizens of McMinnville — or at least the ones moved to exert influence as individuals or members of relevant interest groups.

The study area includes Chemeketa Community College’s McMinnville campus, McMinnville Municipal Airport, the Willamette Valley Medical Center, an array of associated medical offices on both sides of the highway, several housing developments and various other enterprises. So it’s by no means a blank slate.

What’s drawing the most attention is a 180-acre tract of undeveloped highway frontage carrying industrial zoning. The planning commission approved designation of about 60 acres of it for a major retail commercial development and a goodly portion of the rest for an innovation campus, designed to serve as an incubator for enterprising industrial and high-tech startups.

No one seems to oppose the innovation campus idea, but the retail commercial proposal has drawn fire from several quarters.

Critics contend it would, by opening the door to a regional big-box shopping complex, threaten continued viability of Three Mile Lane as a swift-moving bypass, downtown as a vibrant commercial hub and remaining industrial inventory as a sufficient long-term repository. City officials have issued strongly worded rebuttals on all three counts.

The problem is, no one is beating down the door to develop an industrial incubator. That could take years of effort on the part of groups like the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership, and prospects remain uncertain even then.

However, three development interests have already filed applications for the rezoning of 70-odd acres of highway frontage from industrial to general commercial, and permitted uses include big box development.

The key player waiting in the wings is Kimco, a national shopping center developer holding interests in 564 U.S. centers encompassing 93 million square feet of retail space. It already boasts eight centers in Oregon, including Jantzen Beach in Portland and Tanasbourne in Hillsboro.

City officials have warned against conflating the plan designation with the rezoning and development proposals, which are moving on a separate track.

However, adopting a plan identifying a particular parcel for commercial use strongly suggests the city would find favor with applications to rezone that parcel for commercial development. It defies logic to think the city would spend years developing a corridor plan it did not intend to implement.

We don’t presume to know who makes the better case on the regional shopping center prospect.

It would enhance McMinnville as a visitor destination and regional commercial hub. It would also boost employment and the tax base.

However, it would certainly swell traffic on the highway, even if it didn’t overtax capacity for some years to come. And it would inevitably introduce major new competition for the local shopping dollar.

If you have strong feelings on this or any other issue raised by the city’s new Three Mile Lane Area Plan, now’s the time to be heard. We urge you to turn out Tuesday and say your piece.

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