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Sunday, May 6, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Big-box stores could create big changes in Maple Valley

Times Southeast Bureau

Erin Dunn chose to live in Maple Valley because it's rural.

Since moving here four years ago, Dunn has seen housing developments sprout up at an alarming rate and now cringes at rumors that big-box stores might be on the horizon.

At least once a week, Dunn drives to Covington to do her shopping, and that's fine with her.

While neighboring communities have succumbed to the financial allure of stores such as like Wal-Mart or Fred Meyer, Maple Valley has remained a small town.

For the first time in Maple Valley's nearly 10-year history, this young city may be poised for a big change. As residents continue to spend money dollars outside the city, Maple Valley city officials say it's time to bring in large commercial retail stores.

Since the city was incorporated in 1997, the commercial limit has been capped at 60,000 square feet. The Safeway at Four Corners is Maple Valley's largest commercial store and is built to the limit maximum. Big-box stores are usually about three times the size of Safeway.

While residents have long expressed a desire for shopping convenience, the advent of the big box is a growing pain that's hard for many to stomach.

"If it's not done carefully and it's not well-planned and well-mitigated, it will have a big impact on the community," said Laure Iddings, Maple Valley mayor and longtime resident.

The City Council supports raising the city's commercial square footage limit from the current 60,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet and is willing to consider development larger than 100,000 square feet. Before allowing big-box stores, the council wants to outline incentives for the city, such as pedestrian access and public-gathering places.

The council sent the proposal back to city staff to work out details of the commercial-building incentives and could vote on it in July.

As the city continues to grow, the city is tasked with meeting residents' needs while still maintaining the small-town feel. Each year, residents spend half of their retail money outside the city, an economic-development committee report said.

"Right now there are lots of things you just can't buy in Maple Valley," City Manager Anthony Hemstad said.

Cities need business to build a strong commercial-tax base because taxes from businesses pay for many of the services that cities provide to residents.

And while Maple Valley officials want the tax revenue and residents want the convenience of being able to buy everything close to home, neither group can have what it wants without allowing retailers such as Target to move in.

Enough small shops and mom-and-pop stores — long popular in cities such as Maple Valley that have a small-town feel — won't open in town without a big-box anchor to serve as a destination and draw shoppers.

But some fear that bringing convenience in the form of big-box retail could change the character of the city.

As residents spend in other cities, that's lost tax dollars that could go toward improvements in Maple Valley, Hemstad said.

Maple Valley Highway and city roads need about $100 million in investment. The city does not have a city hall — it currently operates out of a small space in a strip mall. There is park land waiting to be developed and always a demand for increased public-safety services, Hemstad said.

The city is financially healthy, but they would like to offer more services to residents, Hemstad said.

Public-opinion surveys indicate that residents want more shopping selection in their city, but are also wary of large retail development. Residents have been asking for everything from finer restaurants to a book or clothing store, Iddings said.

"If we can create enough economic opportunity here, people won't be compelled to make stops elsewhere," said Chamber of Commerce President Sue VanRuff.

As large retail looms, Erin Dunn said she would rather leave the strip malls and super stores to neighboring towns. Dunn said it's better to travel to shop than have the big-box stores in her backyard.

"We like our quaint little town the way it is," Dunn said.

Lauren Vane: 253-234-8604 or lvane@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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