Home Depot eyes grassy field

The rumors are true. Home Depot, the nation’s largest home improvement chain, is staking its claim on a prime piece of Oak Harbor real estate.

Company officials earlier this week filed a formal application with the city to build a 102,000-square-foot retail store and 25,000-square-foot garden center. The two buildings — if approved through the city’s permitting process — will occupy what’s now a pastoral-looking piece of open space that fronts Highway 20, just south of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

For many in the community, Home Depot’s decision to locate in Oak Harbor is good news. With its trademark orange aprons and folksy you-can-do-it slogan, the Atlanta, Ga.-based retailer promises to generate many more sales tax dollars for the city and likely keep more shoppers closer to home.

Behind the scenes, however, some had hoped to lure a retailer with a focus on household wares such as clothes and shoes — items Oak Harbor residents routinely leave town to buy.

Home Depot still needs to obtain a conditional use permit to build on the 14-acre site. But should the company win approval of its plans, the home improvement center would occupy one of the last big chunks of highway frontage available within the city limits.

That means enticing other large, name-brand stores likely will be more difficult, especially as some of the remaining land along the highway is owned by multiple owners and would require more negotiations.

Sharon Hart, executive director of the Island County Economic Development Council, said she is talking with a department retailer “interested in the area.”

She acknowledged that the retailer (whom she declined to name) had previously looked into purchasing the land where Home Depot plans to build. But she remained upbeat about attracting more business to Oak Harbor’s growing, big-box retail base.

“It doesn’t mean we’ve counted them out at all,” Hart said. “We want to restore the sales tax leakage. We won’t stop at one type of store or another.”

Meanwhile, Hart said she was pleased to hear that Home Depot is serious about coming to town.

“It’s another opportunity to add jobs to the area,” Hart said.

She also said that a number of people were leaving the island to shop at Home Depot, already.

“We can restore that sales tax,” she said.

Some were a bit surprised that Home Depot actually followed through with its Oak Harbor plans. Another Home Depot is currently under construction in Burlington and would likely have served as a regional magnet, drawing shoppers from throughout Skagit and Island counties.

Priscilla Heistad, executive director of the Greater Oak Harbor Area Chamber of Commerce, said Home Depot will provide another anchor to Oak Harbor’s growing retail base.

“But I suppose there are some mixed emotions from the businesses that already are here,” she said. “Maybe they can find their niche with the customers that are here.”

Armchair speculation about Home Depot moving to Oak Harbor has percolated for months. Many in the community assumed the retailer was coming, and now that the company has filed paperwork with the city, there are sure to be ripples in the business community as a result.

Already, a local flooring store, Floor Show, has launched itself in a brand-new building off Highway 20 north of the city.

Ace Hardware, which sits along Pioneer Way, has spruced itself up in recent months through remodeling.

But overall, Home Depot’s entry into the Oak Harbor market has seemed more a foregone conclusion than anything else.

“Home Depot has been a real quiet entrance,” Heistad observed. “People haven’t talked a whole lot about it.”

That wasn’t the case when Wal-Mart prepared to open its doors in the late 1990s. The chamber of commerce held workshops for business owners worried about how to compete with the mega-retailer. The city waged a losing legal battle against the Bentonville, Ark. chain.

Home Depot likely won’t face that fight, this time. But the company does need to comply with an extensive set of city codes. Because of the size of the proposed building, the city’s review process will be more comprehensive than a typical application.

Ultimately, the plans will go before the city’s Planning Commission and local residents, who will have a chance to sound off at a public hearing, before city council members weigh in with a final decision.

In most cases, city planning staff say, it takes three to four months for a project to get to the public hearing stage. No hearing has been scheduled as of yet.

The public can take a look at Home Depot’s plans by visiting City Hall. The company has filed a thick pile of paperwork that details everything from landscape ideas to plans to build traffic lights to accommodate increased traffic. The company has already paid to complete a traffic analysis at the site.

It’s very likely the company will need to help pay for a traffic signal near its Highway 20 entrance. The signal would sit near Discount Party store. Home Depot’s plans call for building a road that would provide customers access to a 418-space parking lot.

The company also has a wetland sitting on the southern edge of its property. It will require environmental buffering, or creating a wetland at another location entirely to compensate for the loss of habitat.

But in order to build anything at all, Home Depot officials must first obtain a conditional use permit for the property. Although the 14-acre parcel is considered to be C-5, a commercial kind of zoning, home improvement centers are not considered to be an outright permitted use, city officials say.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 22
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates