Wal-Mart proposal pumped up

This time, a plan will seek a Supercenter at Broadway and Fairview Road.
Wednesday, May 12, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:54 a.m. CDT, Thursday, June 26, 2008

Developers of a planned Wal-Mart at Broadway and Fairview Road have decided to seek a larger store that will require rezoning and could have a final plan ready for the city as early as the end of the month.

“The plan should be done by the end of the month,” said Craig Van Matre, attorney for the developer.

“It depends on the extent to which the school board wants input on the issue,” Van Matre said, explaining that the new plans call for wider streets designed to alleviate traffic congestion around nearby Mary Paxton Keeley Elementary and Smithton Middle schools. The development group wants to give the school board a chance to review the plans. Its feedback, he said, will help determine “when we’ll take it to the council.”

The proximity of the schools, especially Paxton Keeley, which is directly across the street from the proposed Supercenter, emerged early on as the major issue of opposition among neighbors. Communication between Community First, a neighborhood activist group, and the developers remains at a standstill.

Terry Baker, president of Community First, doesn’t think the developers understand her group’s reservations.

“I think to them, (the proximity to the schools is) a nonissue,” she said.

Community First continues to make its presence and stance known. The group recently participated in the Earth Day fair, where members distributed yard signs that read “No Wal-Mart on West Broadway.” The signs, prevalent in the Park de Ville neighborhood, are also appearing all over Columbia.

Baker said support hasn’t lulled in the face of development.

“We’ve given out about 700 yard signs and have over 4,000 names on our petition from folks who think the Fairview site isn’t suitable,” Baker said. “We continue to be actively educating the community.”

Van Matre said the group doesn’t seem interested in negotiating with developers. “They seem to be pretty firm in their opposition and don’t want to talk with us.”

The developers in January met with neighbors and outlined three possible layouts for the store and surrounding project.

The smallest called for a 17.5-acre Wal-Mart store that would have required no rezoning; the largest called for a 32-acre development that would require the developers to buy and raze five homes and to seek additional commercial zoning.

Once a plan is submitted to the city, it will be subject to several levels of review. The Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission would have to hold a public hearing on any rezoning request and provide a recommendation to the Columbia City Council, which would have the final say.

The council’s eventual vote will prove either a major victory or a demoralizing defeat for either side. Second Ward Councilman Chris Janku’s jurisdiction includes the targeted site. He opposes the larger store but was unwilling to predict how the council will vote.

“I’m not going to speculate on that,” Janku said. “They’ll make up their minds when they get a proposal, after they evaluate it.”

Baker said she’s confident in the council’s decision-making ability, while Van Matre said he is cautiously optimistic.

“We’ve been very pleased with working with the council,” Baker said. “Chris has openly opposed to the rezoning.”

“I’ve never been confident in a city council vote,” Van Matre said. “Every once in a blue moon, if there’s unanimous support from the Planning and Zoning Commission, something can get through without much fight. Until the night they vote, I won’t be sure.”

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