The Ukiah Planning Commission has nudged forward a controversial proposal to build a 148,000-square-foot Costco store along Highway 101.
The commission voted 3-1 Thursday to recommend that the City Council adopt an environmental impact report, a zoning change and a list of reasons why the store's benefits outweigh its significant and unavoidable negative impacts on traffic, air quality and global climate change.
The Ukiah City Council is scheduled to consider the recommendations Dec. 4. The council has been wooing Costco for years and already has approved borrowing up to $4 million to make freeway interchange alterations to accommodate Costco and other future businesses along Airport Park Boulevard.
Many area residents and people from surrounding counties, including Sonoma County, are looking forward to having a Costco in Ukiah.
"I'm in support of Costco," said Ukiah resident Brian Kornegay.
Ukiah Planning Director Charley Stump said even people from Cloverdale have phoned the city to say they favor the project. They don't like shopping at Santa Rosa's store because of traffic jams, he said.
But others worry that the store will bring similar traffic problems to Ukiah.
City and Costco officials assured them that the store cannot be built until a new freeway interchange is completed but that failed to placate its critics.
They say it's wrong to spend millions of tax dollars to benefit big corporations.
"Taxpayer money concerns me most of all," Ukiah business owner Marlene Shupe told the commission during Thursday's public hearing.
The city initially earmarked redevelopment bond funds for the project but they disappeared when the state abolished redevelopment agencies. The city is considering suing over the loss, but also has backup funding plans that include obtaining a low-interest state loan.
Costco is expected to generate more than enough sales tax revenue over the 30 year life of the loan to offset its costs, city officials said.
Other concerns voiced about the project included impacts on air quality, aesthetics and wetlands adjacent to the project. Residents suggested the project be scaled down by eliminating the store's 20-pump gas station and that trees be planted to shield the 607-space parking lot from the freeway.
Planning Commissioner Linda Sanders, citing primarily wetland concerns, was the lone no vote on the project's impact report.
You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or firstname.lastname@example.org