Developers who want to build a Wal-Mart at West Broadway and Fairview Road have asked city staff to review their plans and are warning that neighborhood residents can either accept a large store with accompanying amenities or a smaller store they say would be “an inferior result.”
On Wednesday morning, Van Matre and Harrison P.C., legal representatives for the Wal-Mart developers, submitted a packaged request for a concept review to the city’s Planning and Development Department. The package outlined details of two options for the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter; both have met with serious opposition from neighbors.
City will look at proposal before rezoning
Interim Planning Director Chuck Bondra called the concept review an informal process in which city staff will take a look at the plans and discuss them with attorneys before a request for rezoning is submitted to the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, perhaps in late July. While much of the property is already zoned for commercial use, the developers plan to ask the commission to rezone another 12 acres as planned commercial.
“If Planning and Zoning recommends approval, it’ll be harder for the council to turn it down,” lawyer Craig Van Matre said. “My conversations with City Council members have indicated to me that they don’t want to oppose the neighbors.”
In his request for a concept review, Van Matre said the issue poses an important question: “Is it better to allow the emotions of those who believe they are most adversely or directly affected by this proposed development to dictate a result which is neither wise nor in the best interests of the city?”
Nearby neighbors oppose development
David Evans of the Park De Ville Neighborhood Association is among those who oppose the development.
“We voted 30 to 13 to oppose any increase in commercial zoning on that site. We wouldn’t be happy with any Wal-Mart out there. We think it’s an unreasonable and irresponsible development,” he said. “… The proposal that they are making would overwhelm that piece of property and overwhelm the neighborhood.”
Area resident Marjorie Meredith said she disagreed with some of the wording in Van Matre’s request.
“The word ‘emotions,’ I think, is inappropriate; that’s to impress Planning
and Zoning because we have good strong reasons why we don’t want the property rezoned,” Meredith said. “(Van Matre’s) concept is neither wise, nor in the best interest of the city.”
Resident Amanda Davis echoed Meredith’s concerns.
“Corporate America needs to stay out of the neighborhood,”Davis said. “We’re not a big metropolitan area, we don’t need three Supercenters.”
Toni Dorster is a mother of three Paxton Keeley Elementary School students and a member of Community First, a group that has organized to fight the Wal-Mart plan. She disagreed with Davis about the crux of the issue.
“Community First is not about anti-Wal-Mart or anti-development,so it’s not up to us to decide how many Wal-Marts that they put in this town,”Dorster said. “We’re just concerned that it be put into an appropriate place.”
Either plan would alter area streets
The developers’ proposal includes two options: a 16.75-acre plan in the event rezoning is rejected, or a 24.5-acre development in the event rezoning is granted.
Of the 16.75-acre plan, Van Matre wrote that the applicants and their representatives “are confident that an inferior product will result, but that is the choice which we intend to place before the Planning and Zoning Commission (and ultimately the City Council).”
Either way, there is a good chance that streets in the area will be widened to accommodate more traffic. Exactly what would be widened and who would pay for it remains up in the air. The developers have said they would form a transportation development district to cover most of the costs.
While the larger plan would generate more traffic, Van Matre insists it is a better deal for neighbors and for the city, noting in the proposal that the 17.7 acres already commercially zoned would “barely” suit the smaller plan.
“The neighbors have told the city council that they want the smaller plan, thinking that my clients are bluffing and won’t build that plan,” Van Matre said.
As it stands now, Wal-Mart is prepared to provide new driveways for the schools and a parents parking lot for the Paxton Keeley school. But with Paxton Keeley, Smithton Middle School and the Kids Depot day-care center all within walking distance of the Wal-Mart site, parents will be keeping a close eye on the changes to streets and sidewalks.
“Traffic will be a big issue,” said Mitch Skove of the planning department. “And that’s the critical thing to mention at this point. Street accesses and site design all tie in with that.”
Diane Sharp, an area resident and mother of students at Paxton Keeley and Smithton Middle School, worries about her children walking to school.
“I really don’t think that I’ll let my children walk to school anymore. It’s ideal at the moment. The roads are small. There are sidewalks,” she said. “No one is against Wal-Mart; it’s just not an appropriate place for a Supercenter.”
Planned commercial zoning would allow the City Council to become highly involved in reviewing plans for the Wal-Mart development. Van Matre said it would have a say in decisions about streetlights, landscaping, off-site improvements, hours of operation and the design of the store, for example.