The Wal-Mart way presided Monday night when the Columbia City Council voted 5-2 to approve rezoning that will allow construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter and accompanying retail development at Broadway and Fairview Road.
The decision ended almost a year of heated debate and compromise surrounding the developers’ request to rezone 23 acres of open and residential space, which lies across from Paxton-Keeley Elementary School in west Columbia.
Seventeen acres of the land was already zoned for general commercial use, while another six acres was zoned single-family residential. The developers sought planned commercial zoning for the entire tract and, given the council’s approval, will buy and raze five homes on the property.
The council’s decision bucked a recommendation from the Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission and the feelings of a coalition of neighborhood associations, some of whom organized under the name Community First to argue against the development of any Wal-Mart on the site.
Opponents repeatedly cited concerns about traffic and children’s safety in the area, arguing that the developers’ plans for the land were simply too cumbersome for the site.
The developers, however, insisted that denial of their request would have given them no choice but to build a less-attractive Wal-Mart absent the amenities promised if the rezoning were granted.
In the end, the developers won. The council’s vote came after about 90 minutes of public comment and more than an hour of discussion by council members. Monday night’s input came on top of hours of comment the council heard during the first phase of the public hearing at its Dec. 20 meeting.
“There’s very little about it that’s better, maybe nothing that’s better,” Third Ward Councilman Bob Hutton said of the 17-acre plan.
Mayor Darwin Hindman and council members Almeta Crayton, Jim Loveless and John John of the First, Fourth and Fifth wards respectively, sided with Hutton.
Council members Chris Janku and Brian Ash, of the Second and Sixth wards, dissented.
The vote came after the council attached several amendments to the ordinance authorizing the rezoning. Hindman pushed through a proposal to shrink the size of the Wal-Mart building by 10,000 square feet, to 173,500, and to allow the developers to shift that area to other retail establishments on the site. Another amendment is meant to ensure the council will be able to hold the developers to the promises they’ve made as they bring detailed site plans to the city for review.
The developers made several other concessions over the course of the debate, agreeing to prohibit deliveries of goods along Park De Ville Drive and to prohibit any fast-food restaurants on the site from having drive-through windows.
Amenities promised under the planned commercial zoning include a brick façade on the Wal-Mart building; extensive landscaping; improvements to surrounding roads, including an extension of West Ash Street to Park De Ville Drive; a natural buffer between the Wal-Mart and nearby residential property and a parking lot available for use by parents of Paxton-Keeley students.
In other action Monday night, the council was scheduled to set a Jan. 18 public hearing on the proposed annexation and zoning of nearly 1,000 acres owned by Billy Sapp. The land is east of Columbia on the north and south sides of Route WW.
The move would mark the largest voluntary annexation in Columbia’s history. The Columbia Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing Thursday night on the proposal and issue a recommendation to the council.
Sapp has proposed a mix of residential and commercial uses, including a golf course. The city’s planning staff has recommended approval of the entire request, though it wants to limit the types of commercial uses allowed on the sites.
Missourian reporter Amy Rainey contributed to this report.