Second Chuck’s store faces new hurdle

Plans to break ground by spring complicated by stormwater injunction

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter

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Owners of organic grocer Chuck’s Produce and Street Market say their second Clark County store has cleared all traffic hurdles.

But now they’re concerned about a federal injunction that has changed the county’s plan for managing stormwater runoff, said Matthew Harrell, a spokesman for Chuck’s. Harrell gave a mixed message Friday about whether his company’s $5.5 million store development would break ground this spring as planned on the corner of Northeast Highway 99 and Northeast 117th Street.

“We’re proceeding forward with our project the best way we can,” he said.

The schedule faces uncertainty now that a federal judge has said the county must follow the state’s stricter stormwater runoff guidelines while the county’s proposed plan remains on appeal in state court.

“We’re sitting and waiting because nobody knows yet what the effect is,” Harrell said. “This is going to have a profound effect on all development in Clark County.”

The injunction, granted Dec. 28 by U.S. District Judge Ronald B. Leighton, was requested by the Rosemere Neighborhood Association, Columbia Riverkeeper and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center.

County officials said Thursday that projects approved prior to Dec. 28 could develop under the county’s less-stringent stormwater code. Clark County will waive review fees for developers whose projects are caught up in a federal injunction over stormwater rules, commissioners decided this week.

But that leaves out the proposed Chuck’s, because it had not received final engineering approval from the county. At this point, Chuck’s will have to comply with state stormwater standards at its second location, said Kevin Gray, the county’s director of environmental services.

“If they wanted to move forward today, we cannot approve their project unless they were to meet the state’s flow restoration standards,” he said.

That could delay plans for Chuck’s, which had originally hoped to open the second store by October or November, Harrell said.

The stormwater management rules are just one more expensive stumbling block to overcome, Harrell said. He added that the development had been moving successfully forward in recent months, after his company convinced county officials that, as a specialty grocer, Chuck’s generates less traffic than a general supermarket.

By submitting its own traffic analysis, Chuck’s developers received a nearly 50 percent reduction in the project’s traffic impact fees, which dropped to $424,000 from the county’s original estimate of $843,000.

“They successfully argued that they will produce less traffic compared with a supermarket of similar size,” said Jeff Mize, a spokesman for the county’s public works department.

Stormwater road block

Chuck’s developers aren’t sure how the new stormwater requirements will affect plans for their 47,370-square-foot store.

County officials say the new ruling means stormwater would have to run off the developed four-acre Chuck’s site in the same way it did before European settlements in the region, when the land was forested. Before the injunction, the county had been following a plan it negotiated with the state Department of Ecology requiring developers to match existing conditions at the site, while the county provided additional restoration to the watershed.

Gray said state regulations can dramatically increase the cost of development, depending on how it is handled.

For example, under the county’s now-halted plan, Gray estimated it would cost $20,600 to develop stormwater controls for a similar retail project on Highway 99. The cost would increase 10-fold to $216,500 to match the site’s forested, predeveloped condition.

However, Gray said development costs could be reduced to approximately $54,400 with the use of low-impact development techniques, such as pervious asphalt.

The first Chuck’s opened in east Vancouver off Mill Plain Boulevard in October 2010, transforming a shuttered Joe’s sporting goods store into a produce-focused grocery complete with an in-store deli, a bakery and a butcher shop stocked with locally produced meats. It is the brainchild of Bart Colson, a partner in Vancouver-based Hawthorn Retirement Group, a family-owned business that operates a string of more than 40 senior living facilities in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. The family’s Salem, Ore.-based construction firm, Colson & Colson General Contractors, has built more than 300 retirement facilities, according to its website.

Colson is also affiliated with the family business HRC Investors Corp., which operates as Holiday Retirement and manages a string of other retirement communities. He said earlier this year that he noticed a need for an organic produce store when his family moved to Vancouver from Salem, Ore., in 2007.