Corvallis Big-Box Store Epidemic

DSC_0516The transformation seems to have begun back in 2003, when plans for a Home Depot being built in Corvallis took center stage. A hardware superstore in our city just didn’t seem to fit the script, considering we already had True Value Hardware on Circle Boulevard and Robnett’s downtown. Many residents scoffed at the idea. For one, they felt it would create too much traffic.

Long story short, in 2007 Home Depot was up and running for good. It created more jobs and has become the community’s go-to stop for all home improvement and construction needs. However, it also seems to have sparked the big-box and chain store surge that I fear has only just begun in our fair city. We have too many Starbucks and Safeway locations as is. Wal-Mart, Buffalo Wild Wings, T.J. Maxx, etc., I’m also looking at you…

While Home Depot didn’t displace Robnett’s Hardware (probably due to the fact that they’re a fantastic local business with a great staff), other businesses might not be so lucky when the next chain store arrives. How would downtown restaurants such as Flat Tail or Block 15 fare if a Chili’s, Olive Garden, and/or Cheesecake Factory got the bright idea to plop themselves somewhere around 3rd street?

Does Corvallis really want to resemble Albany or Salem by swapping out local or family-owned businesses and cramming in more chain retail stores? Or Lebanon, where the original downtown has all but been abandoned for an expansion of box stores heading out the other way down Highway 20?

There’s a little more to it than just saying no, according to Jared Voice, associate planner of the City of Corvallis Development Services division.

“Like all cities in Oregon, Corvallis is divided into multiple land use zones,” Voice said.

“Each zone allows a range of uses, subject to specific developmental standards. Uses are generally divided into four broad categories: Residential, Civic, Commercial, and Industrial. Within each category, there are multiple use classifications.”

Classifications for commercial use stores include Convenience Sales and Personal Services like barber shops, laundromats, and convenience stores. Another example is Retail Sales, the classification that box stores fall under.

“In general, if a use is allowed within a given zone, and an applicant/property owner submits plans demonstrating that development standards (such as parking, setbacks, building design, etc.) are met, then that use can be developed,” Voice added.

The Development Services division is essentially the City’s building department, according to Voice. They review building permit applications for compliance with city laws, which includes zoning regulations, building code standards, and more. If a proposal meets all the specific criteria of the City Land Development Code (adopted in 2006), they are required by law to approve the proposal.

He also said most uses are generally limited to a maximum size of about 7, 500 square feet, though Mixed Use Community Shopping Zones, like the commercial development along 9th Street, allow a maximum of about 25,000 square feet. Larger use sizes must go through a planning process.

Voice thinks it’s possible these standards may discourage more big-box development within certain zones. Unfortunately, Corvallis can’t simply say “no thanks” to another Starbucks being built here in favor of popular, locally owned coffee shops like the Beanery or Coffee Culture.

“If eating and drinking establishments are allowed within a given zone, the City cannot distinguish between a chain restaurant such as Buffalo Wild Wings and a locally owned ‘mom and pop’-type restaurant. In fact, there is nothing to require that plans submitted to the City for review even identify specific business/tenant names. Only proposed uses need to be identified,” Voice said.

So what’s the next big-box store headed our way?

According to Voice, there are building permit plans currently under review for a new Wilco farm store, which is proposed to be located off of Northeast Circle Boulevard between Applebee’s and the Carmike Cinema.

The Wilco location was originally slated for where the Wal-Mart grocery store now resides, but for whatever reason that proposal fell through. Either way it would’ve ended up in a crowded complex among other box stores.

Corvallisites might be curious to see how the newly planned, five-story building between Adams Street and Washington Street in downtown Corvallis develops. It will reportedly include a 130-room, three-level hotel with around 4,500 square feet of ground floor commercial space.

Will this large hotel be a boon or a bust for our lovable and unique downtown businesses that haven’t felt the pressure from box store expansion yet? That’s a question best left for when its doors open in 2016.

For more information on City Zoning, visit http://www.corvallisoregon.gov/index.aspx?page=328.

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