Friday, June 24, 2005

Home Depot abandons plan for Bellevue store

Alternative site in valley not being considered

Express Staff Writer

After instigating a firestorm of debate about whether big-box retailers should be welcomed in the Wood River Valley, Home Depot representatives last week pulled their tentative plan to build a store in Bellevue.

"At this point it's a dead deal," said Tom Thoreson, Home Depot real estate manager for the Northwest Division.

In a June 15 letter to the city, the home-improvement giant officially bowed out of plans for a new retail center on the north end of Main Street.

Home Depot representatives spurred a wave of public concern and prompted the Bellevue City Council to impose an emergency 182-day building moratorium when they inquired last April about the city's development regulations. It was then revealed that they had developed a tentative plan to install a smaller version of the chain's large-scale stores at the site of the Sun Valley Garden Center.

"Based on recent actions, one being the currently imposed building moratorium, Home Depot is unable to proceed with its proposed development and is dropping the project," the letter from Home Depot to Planning and Zoning Administrator Jacki Saul says.

Concerns over a large-scale store being built under the city's existing building standards prompted the council to enact the moratorium, mainly to allow a re-evaluation of those standards. The city's existing ordinance allows for a maximum 72,000-square-foot building, containing two businesses, to be built in the Business zoning district.

The city's evaluation of standards began in May. The Planning and Zoning Commission is currently reviewing the ordinance and design criteria for large-scale retail projects. It will likely pass a recommendation to the City Council in July.

"It was obvious (Bellevue citizens) were really searching for what they wanted to be; that is an indication it is something that was going to take time to figure out," Thoreson said.

Thoreson said the company had made time-sensitive agreements with two Bellevue property owners.

"With the moratorium it prevented us from performing within the existing parameters in our contracts," Thoreson said.

Thoreson said the property owners under contract included those of the Sun Valley Garden Center, on the west side of Highway 75.

"Home Depot has elected to terminate its agreements with the two Bellevue property owners representing the project area for the proposed Home Depot," the letter says.

The retail giant is not looking for an alternative location in the Wood River Valley, Thoreson said.

"We are not looking at any further sites," he said.

He said Home Depot considered building a Bellevue store after market research indicated adequate consumer demand. Combined figures from Wood River Valley e-commerce customers and visitors to the Twin Falls outlet indicated an area market existed to support the business.

"The combination between those two points of business (e-commerce and retail) gave us an indication there was a demand for our service in the valley," Thoreson said.

He could not offer specific market figures.

Specifically designed for the valley's market, preliminary design concepts called for a boutique Home Depot store. Representatives presented conceptual site plans in May for a retail center consisting of two buildings, approximately 26,000 square feet and 36,000 square feet in size. Two separate preliminary architectural renderings depicted mining and mountain-lodge design concepts that contrasted from the store's typical big-box design.

The termination of Home Depot's plans will not affect Bellevue's work to establish large-scale retail building design standards.

"We are going to continue on with the proposed ordinance. This is something we would like to be prepared for," Saul said.

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