Christopher Rosacker
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October 1, 2013
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Grass Valley officials cringe as North Auburn Wal-Mart clears development hurdle

With a California agency absolving a North Auburn site of toxicity concerns, Wal-Mart officials said the company’s plan to build one of its “Supercenter” stores close to Nevada County has cleared its last hurdle.

Grass Valley officials, on the other hand, are worried that the ruling will only mean more sales tax dollars lost to a neighboring community.

“We get no benefit from it,” said Jeri Amendola, Grass Valley’s economic development coordinator. “Our dollars will be leaving (the area) more now.”

Wal-Mart officials said the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s determination that soil samples at the former Bohemia lumber mill site off Highway 49 do not include high enough levels of toxic substances to pose a threat to prohibit commercial construction.

“It is now abundantly clear that the North Auburn Wal-Mart site is safe to develop for commercial purposes,” said Amelia McLear, Wal-Mart’s director of public affairs, in a letter to Placer County Supervisor Jack Duran.

That Auburn store, which Wal-Mart said could open in 2015, would be closer to Nevada County than the company’s Roseville location, Amendola said. And with Placer County officials concurrently moving forward with a Costco even closer to Nevada County, local residents will have even more allure to shop elsewhere, Amendola fears.

“For the last two decades, we have seen Nevada County shoppers travel significant distances to our stores in Roseville or Folsom to take advantage of our selection of affordable goods and quality groceries,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Rachel Wall. “The Auburn Wal-Mart will offer our Grass Valley, Nevada City and other Nevada County customers with more convenient access to what they want and need, closer to where they live and work.”

Grass Valley and Nevada County lose more than $200 million dollars annually in retail sales to other communities, such as Auburn, Roseville and Sacramento, according to Texas-based Buxton Company.

That revenue has contributed to local government’s depressed revenues. For instance, between 2008 and 2012, Grass Valley’s more than $10 million general fund lost about $1.5 million and Nevada City lost $487,000, prompting both agencies to appeal to voters to approve temporary local sales hikes to prop up city services.

“Every time this happens, it will affect us to a greater degree,” Amendola said. “Now the (sales) leakage will be at our back door.”

Wal-Mart, the Arkansas-based retail giant, purchased Auburn property off Luther Road and Highway 49 in North Auburn for $10 million in 2011 to build a 155,000-square-foot store, according to The Union’s archives.

The site’s former lumber operation spurred the Alliance to Preserve the Auburn Community Environment to push for further soil tests before Wal-Mart moves forward with its planned super center — a battle that has raged for two years. The group appealed a March 2011 Placer County Superior Court decision to allow the development, stating it does not meet environmental standards. Since then, several decisions have been made and appealed with Wal-Mart recently voluntarily agreeing to the state Department of Toxic Substances Control’s testing of the site, the Auburn Journal reported.

“(T)he site is acceptable for a commercial/industrial land use provided that a suitable land use covenant for the site is prepared and recorded and a soil management plan is submitted to DTSC for review and approval,” reads the Department of Toxic Substances Control determination letter. Wal-Mart was asked to enter into a cost reimbursement agreement with DTSC for completion and recording of such a covenant and soil management plan.

“From the very beginning of this process, Wal-Mart had voluntarily agreed to strict environmental standards and construction practices,” McLear said.

The retail store will also employ “stringent” dust and noise control measures at the site to limit impact on neighboring areas, she said in the letter.

With soil samples cleared, Wal-Mart will submit building and architectural plans to the county to initiate the construction process, which go to bid in 2014, Wall said.

As more “big box” stores pop up near Nevada County, Grass Valley continues to wrestle with whether such stores could fit in its borders. A July survey conducted by Grass Valley concluded that local shoppers are unsatisfied with their Kmart and JC Penney stores and desire a Target, Ross, Marshalls and Kohl’s, in that order of preference.

At the same time, Grass Valley continues to work toward the development of Berriman Ranch along its southern border, an area that members of the town’s council said could be suitable for a Target-like store, though that site would need a zoning amendment first.

Additionally, as the $25 million construction of Highway 49 on- and off-ramps at Dorsey Drive progresses, a large swath of land abutting the southern intersection of Dorsey Drive and Highway 49 is becoming more attractive for development. That land, which would not require a zoning change for commercial purpose, is owned by Russell Jeter, a Washington state resident, who has not granted The Union’s previous requests for comment.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.


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The Union Updated Oct 2, 2013 11:15AM Published Oct 8, 2013 03:45PM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.