With 4,600 signatures and the approval of numerous neighborhood associations, a community organization opposed to rezoning land for a Wal-Mart Supercenter on West Broadway is gearing up for a showdown at a public hearing before the Columbia City Council on Monday.
At a Wednesday news conference at the Columbia Activity and Recreation Center, members of Community First urged residents opposed to the rezoning to contact their City Council members and to attend Monday’s meeting.
“That’s what a public hearing is for,” Community First President Terry Baker said. “That’s what the process is meant to allow; it’s for people to come and express their opinions and concerns.”
Baker said the signatures on the petition show that opposition to the rezoning extends throughout the community.
“There are eight other (neighborhood) associations that have met and voted no,” Baker said. “The people that have added their signatures are from all over Columbia and the Columbia area.”
Baker said the organization plans to surpass the more than 100 people who showed up for a public hearing on the issue before the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission, which voted 6-3 against the rezoning.
The Kroenke Group has said all along that it will build a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the site regardless of whether it wins the rezoning Monday. About 17.5 acres of the land are already zoned appropriately. At issue is a request to rezone another 15 acres of adjoining land for planned commercial use that would allow a much larger store and accompanying development. The developers have said they would include amenities such as buffers and common areas in the larger development to make it more palatable to neighbors. The plan also includes road projects intended to accommodate increased traffic.
Community First contends that placing a Wal-Mart Supercenter next to a residential area will create traffic and other hazards in close proximity to nearby elementary schools. A neighborhood association close to the property claims the planned shopping center would overwhelm surrounding homes.
“We believe that C-1 zoning, as set forth in zoning ordinances in the city of Columbia, is only for local, neighborhood commercial uses,” said David Evans, president of the Park De Ville Neighborhood Association, “and a Wal-Mart Supercenter is certainly not for local, neighborhood commercial use.”
Community First treasurer Deanna Walkenbach said that allowing the rezoning would set a dangerous precedent.
“I think everyone should be aware that if this development happens on this scale and this scope, if you live anywhere on vacant land or close to vacant land in a neighborhood, you are as in danger as we are here today,” Walkenbach said.
While the group acknowledges it can do nothing to block construction of a smaller Wal-Mart Supercenter on the property, they believe the proposal for a larger store is too obtrusive on the neighborhood.
“We have always said that appropriate commercial development can exist in harmony with residences and elementary schools,” Baker said. “The 17 acres of that property is zoned
C-1. We’re not contending that; we’re not protesting it. What we are saying is additional commercial zoning is not in the best interest of the neighborhood and of the city of Columbia.”
The news conference comes directly following a media campaign by proponents of the larger store, who sent a mailing, “Ten things you should know about this plan,” to Columbia residents. Proponents also bought a nearly half-page advertisement that ran Dec. 5 in the Columbia Daily Tribune.
The mailing and the advertisement state that the new Wal-Mart would generate sales taxes to finance city services and create neighborhood amenities, including a parking lot for Paxton-Keeley Elementary School. The ad calls on residents to contact their City Council representatives to express support for the rezoning.
Representatives of the developers, including attorney Craig Van Matre and Kroenke Group member Otto Maly, could not be reached for comment.