Many citizens are frustrated by City’s actions
For more than a year, Walgreen’s has been trying to make the Monmouth intersection of Highways 51 and 99 the site of their newest store. For just as long, there have been Monmouth citizens fighting to keep Walgreen’s out. Now, as appeals and options run out, residents opposing Walgreen’s fight on, not just against the billion-dollar corporation, but against the city government they believe has dealt unfairly with them.
Pat and Mo Jaffer moved to Monmouth in 1958 and bought their present home, an 1880s Victorian, in 1961. If the Walgreen’s deal goes through, the back of the new store will be the main view from their dining room window.
Two homes and the lots they sit on are the point of contention in the controversy surrounding Walgreen’s. Though a commercial lot exists on Highway 99, the City Council agreed to rezone two adjoining residential lots as commercial.
Pat served on the City Council in the 1970s, when the Council designated a buffer zone around Highway 51, zoned medium-density and non-commercial. This, Pat says, was to serve as protection for the several historic homes in the area, as well as to keep traffic manageable. In 1998, the council reviewed the zoning laws again, keeping them in place. In early 2000 Rite Aid tried to buy the buffer-zone land, and were unanimously voted down by the council, the argument being that the land did not meet rezoning criteria. Specifically, that there was no need for a new drug store (a Bi-mart already stands in Monmouth).
Though the opponents of the Walgreen’s still believe this need doesn’t exist, Monmouth’s Mayor Larry Dalton disagrees.
“I’ve talked to people, even my wife has stood in line at Bi-Mart for over an hour trying to get prescriptions filled. I’ve heard from a lot of people who have Walgreen’s in other cities that love Walgreen’s.”
Jack Sloan, another opponent and resident of the neighborhood Walgreen’s would be entering, believes the City Council has misplaced priorities.
“This is what they call progress. ‘We’re open for business’ is what it is,” he said. “Goal one of Oregon Land Use laws is public participation. You could say that they are doing everything to thwart public participation that they can. They’re ignoring it, they’re doing limited notification, they withheld all kinds of documentation. Every step of the way they’ve stonewalled us.”
But Mayor Dalton points out that the City has planned all along to grow.
“This city is not just an ‘open-for-business-just-anything-can-come-in,’” he said. “We have done extensive planning, and we have, I would say, a very smart growth plan.”
Regarding the charge of thwarted public participation, the Mayor responds, “The bottom line is, if it isn’t their way, well, that’s the only way it could work, their way. For them, that’s all they want. The Council had, and I don’t remember the exact number of meetings, but at least five if not six public hearings on this. They had their chances.”
Opponents are angry about the many factors they believe the council has ignored in making their decision to allow the rezoning.
And what next, if this, their second appeal to contest the Walgreen’s fails?
“Right now we’re tapped out,” Sloan said. “We have no money. We’re in this thing against this outfit that has a jillion dollars and a city that is using the city attorney against its own citizens.
“We had almost 400 people opposing this through all the hearings, through testimony and petition. The proponents of the thing had six people. And the council went with that.”
Mayor Dalton said he believed this petition represents a very small portion of Monmouth’s population and the instance was so far in the past that he wished to decline further comment.
The opponents of the Walgreen’s rezoning believe that the Council’s dealings are symptomatic of a town with skewed values.
“It’s the people who think it’s their own property and they can do whatever they want to maximize the value of the property,” Sloan said. “They don’t care about the neighborhood at all. They don’t care about the historic houses at all. This is why we’ve fought this so hard. It will start unraveling the neighborhood.”