In Our View: No Big-Box on the Water

Admittedly, we're underdogs in this, but riverfront view should be protected

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Six years ago — when The Columbian was defending the southerly view at Vancouver's waterfront and Walmart was reportedly interested in building just across the river — we drew this sarcastic editorial conclusion: "Yeah, we need a Walmart on the riverfront about like we need a casino in the Gorge."

We also opined that we had nothing against Walmart or other big-box retailers, except that "when you're nurturing a love affair with the Columbia River — Clark County's greatest natural treasure — about the only view more hideous than the front side of a Walmart is the back side of a Walmart." In other words, place and aesthetics matter in proud communities like ours.

As expected, that pronouncement had no impact on Walmart's local success. A fourth Clark County store is planned in Battle Ground. But the old Thunderbird Hotel site on Hayden Island once again is targeted for big-box store development, and we're still just as feistily defensive about the southerly view at the waterfront redevelopment project.

As Cami Joner reported in Friday's Columbian, an unidentified big-box retailer is advancing plans for building on the site of the old Thunderbird Hotel, which was closed in 2005 and destroyed by a fire in September. Plans submitted to the city of Portland include a $10.5 million project with a 125,000-square-foot, single-story building with parking. Walmart is out of the picture this time, as are Costco, Fred Meyer and Target, Joner reported.

Of course, everyone on this side of the river would want a pastoral, river-friendly scene on Hayden Island's north shore, something more pleasant to the Vancouver eye than the receiving dock at the rear of a big-box store. And that same philosophy holds true in Portland, where civic leaders have been careful to promote pleasant downtown scenery along the Willamette River. We'd love to have that same type of thinking guide the redevelopment of properties across from our own waterfront project.

Alas, reality reminds us that we're probably not going to get everything we want on this issue. But that won't keep us from putting up a big stink for a little while longer. Portland officials will examine the project's compliance with zoning designations, building codes and infrastructure requirements. Joner quoted Andy Peterson, plan review manager for Portland's development services department: "When all of those are deemed code-compliant, they'll be issued a building permit, as well as separate mechanical and plumbing permits." Sigh …

Public input likely will be limited because, as Peterson explained: "The use that's proposed on the site is allowed by the zoning, and they don't have a zone that requires any type of design review."

Perhaps, but we're still not through with our "Yeah, but ..." resistance. If a big-box retailer is to build on that site, we hope they'll be courteous enough to Washingtonians to at least preserve part of the view with a back-property riverfront trail, maybe with some nice landscaping. Hey, it's the least they could do in return for all of the Washingtonians who'll be rushing to their store to escape the 8.4 percent sales tax in our state.