MONMOUTH -- City leaders have approved a zone change that opens the door for construction of a new Walgreens store.
City councilors voted 4-2 at their July 5 in favor of switching the residential zoning of two parcels of property off the corner of Highway 99W and Main Street into a commercial designation.
Councilors Patrick Moser and Steve Milligan opposed the change.
Benson Sainsbury, a developer from Pasadena, Calif., acting on behalf of Walgreens, plans to build a 14,800-square-foot pharmacy on the 1.4-acre plot.
A Dutch Bros. Coffee kiosk will also be part of the development.
"I'm excited," Sainsbury said. "From the time we submitted the plan, we've seen this as a positive for the community."
The decision follows bitter opposition from residents who say the Walgreens will lead to increased traffic congestion and ruin the atmosphere of the residential area near the proposed business.
"There goes the neighborhood," said one person in the audience after the vote was announced.
The Monmouth Planning Commission and city staff recommended earlier this year that rezoning the land commercial meets the public need criteria for zone changes.
A Walgreens on the property would be more valuable to the community than rental units and would complement existing businesses along the highway, a recent city staff report said.
After two months of testimony from applicants and opponents of the project, council members themselves had a chance to air their opinions.
Milligan said the complex didn't fit with the city's long-term development goals of protecting historic neighborhoods and that it would harm small retailers and existing pharmacies like Bi-Mart and Hi-School Pharmacy by undercutting their prices.
Milligan also said adding a Walgreens and Dutch Bros. on the highway would only "make the congestion nightmare on 99W even worse than it is today."
The zone change "doesn't fit in my estimation," he said.
Councilor Marc Miller said the underlying issue in the change was land use.
The zone change would define an area that has exposure to a major traffic arterial and that it would lead to a development that would offer services to motorists, he said.
"Regardless of how I feel about a Walgreens locating in Monmouth," he said, "or the fact that the services it would provide are a duplication of services that already exist, I seen no reason why the council could deny this request."
Councilor Dave Anderson said he sympathized with community members, but added that the city needs economic development.
"I'm not saying this is the key to everything," he said. "But the public need here is multi-faceted. We've heard that this intersection is the gateway to to the downtown -- 20 years of that vacant lot being the gateway doesn't make one iota of sense."
Sainsbury said construction on the Dutch Bros. kiosk might start as soon as a month from now.
But, despite the approval of the rezoning, progress on the Walgreens could also take months. Opponents have vowed to fight it.
Pat Jaffer, one of the most vocal opponents of the project, said she and 15 other residents plan to file a claim with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals, the state's regulatory body regarding matters related to zoning.
Jaffer said she believes the city made procedural errors in proceeding with the zone change and that the project didn't meet zone-change criteria.
If LUBA accepts the claim, it could remand the decision back to the council, which would have to resolve the matter or undo the zoning.
Sainsbury could begin construction, but at the risk of having to halt the work -- or remove the project -- if the city were to revert the property back to a residential designation, said Monmouth City Attorney Mark Irick.
In August, developers must present findings that show that the project will comply with several building conditions set forth by the Monmouth Planning Commission.
Among those changes: installation of a drainage system along the wall separating the property from adjacent residences to prevent flooding and landscaping to screen the complex; one-way exits on the Walgreens property onto High and Jackson streets to push traffic back toward the highways; and an assurance that the noise level emanating from the heating and cooling system atop the building not exceed 29 decibels.