AV Ends EIR Suit On Big Lots W/O Settling Question On Future Challenges

Construction of the Big Lots distribution center in Apple Valley that has been put on hold since spring will now likely move ahead with the settling of three lawsuits against the town over its decision not to require an environmental impact report for the project.
Two environmental organizations – the Sierra Club and the Golden State Environmental Justice Alliance (GSEJA) – along with a labor union, the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), moved to block the project in March with three separate suits.
A primary issue raised by the three plaintiffs was that the town had entered what is referred to as a mitigated negative declaration in approving the project. Many or most projects of large scope entail as part of the approval process an environmental impact report which puts on the record ahead of time the anticipated impacts that the project will have on the area immediately surrounding the project, including traffic, water use, drainage, air quality, sound, potential generation of hazards, etc. Those reports can outline measures to be taken to offset those impacts. In the approval process, the responsible entity – such as the town council – can mandate that those impacts be redressed. The decision-making body also has the leeway to declare that the benefits of the project outrun any negative consequences and approve it on that basis.
Another option is to declare, after sizing up the project, that there is no substantial evidence that the project or any of its aspects could result in significant adverse impacts. This is called a negative declaration. Similarly, a mitigated negative declaration certifies that any elements of the project that may potentially have a significant effect on
the environment were identified but that the project incorporates measures or elements to reduce those impacts to a less-than-significant level. A negative declaration or mitigated negative declaration mimics in abbreviated form an environmental impact report in that it offers a short description of the proposed project, presents findings related to environmental conditions, includes a copy of the initial study which documents the reasons to support the findings, and includes mitigation measures, if any, included in the project to avoid potentially significant effects.
In 2006, the Town of Apple Valley approved the North Apple Valley Industrial Specific Plan, which applies to 6,600 acres. From the outset of the proposal to build the $120 million Big Lots distribution facility in 2014, the town sought to have it considered as a subproject within the specific plan, such that it would not require its own environmental impact report.
After the town council allowed the application to proceed without a full environmental impact report and instead made a mitigated negative declaration that made reference to the North Apple Valley Industrial Specific Plan, the plaintiffs, citing violations of the California Environmental Quality Act, filed suit.
Within the last week, however, the litigation was settled short of trial and now work on the 1.3-million-square-foot warehousing and distribution facility located north of the Apple Valley Airport near Navajo Road and LaFayette Street, can proceed. According to the city, it will be “one of only five existing Big Lots distribution centers in North America.” The Apple Valley Big Lots Distribution Center will replace the company’s current facility in Rancho Cucamonga. The other four distribution centers are located in Alabama, Ohio, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania.
“The latest project developments are good news for jobseekers in the High Desert as the project will serve as a catalyst in attracting continued economic and industrial growth, not only to Apple Valley but the entire High Desert,” said Orlando Acevedo, Apple Valley’s assistant director of economic development and housing, “It’s good to see the project moving forward.”
Acevedo was unwilling to say how the dispute over the need for the environmental impact report was resolved. Nor would he clarify whether future projects falling within the boundaries of the North Apple Valley Industrial Specific Plan might be subject to challenges similar to that which the Big Lots warehouse endured.
“Apple Valley is ripe to capture Southern California’s next wave of economic growth,” said Apple Valley Mayor, Scott Nassif. “We offer a cost-competitive alternative to the rising costs and shrinking space for large scale industrial projects in the Inland Empire, which is one of the nation’s hottest industrial markets.”
We are excited to see another transportation option for our residents,” said councilwoman Barb Stanton. with regard to a bus route extension to north Apple Valley. “This new route will provide workers from across the high desert the opportunity to work right here in Apple Valley.” -Mark Gutglueck

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