Zoning for a new Wal-Mart store in Lawrence received support from planners Wednesday night, but not without some criticism of the firm's past planning practices.
On a 9-1 vote, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission recommended approval of a request to rezone 15 acres on the east side of Iowa Street for a new Wal-Mart.
The approval came on Wal-Mart's second try in two months to obtain rezoning for property on which to build a new store.
Despite the approval, several planning commissioners criticized Wal-Mart for its poor planning at its current 83,000-square-foot store, located at 27th and Iowa.
"I believe what Wal-Mart did on the current site was atrocious," said David Evans, chairman of the planning commission.
"I favor expansion, but I also favor us doing it in a manner that has higher standards than we've done in the past," Evans said.
COMMISSIONER Mary Prewitt, who cast the dissenting vote, asked Wal-Mart proponents how long the new store would be sufficient for shopper's needs.
Richard Lietz, a Wal-Mart real estate manager from the company's corporate office in Bentonville, Ark., said "there was no way to anticipate that."
Before the vote, Prewitt also criticized Wal-Mart's failure to anticipate the volume of business at its current store, built in 1983.
"I'm convinced that we're all here tonight because Wal-Mart did such a poor job in planning in the first place," she said.
"Now we have an eyesore that with some foresight, could have been avoided," she said, adding that Wal-Mart continues to fall short in its planning efforts.
The approved request is for a 150,000-square-foot store just north of Sonny Hill Motors, 3400 Iowa.
The request would rezone about 5.9 acres from A (agricultural) to C-5 (limited commercial) and 3.9 acres from A to RS-2 (single-family residence) to provide a buffer zone for future residential development. Wal-Mart also is asking the city to annex those same 9.8 acres.
IN ADDITION to the 9.8 acres, Wal-Mart would purchase and tear down Royal Bowling Lanes, 3300 Iowa, a tract already zoned for commercial use.
John Lungstrum, a local attorney representing Wal-Mart, said he was pleased that the planning staff had recommended approval for the rezoning.
"I have no complaints about the recommendation," he said.
Lungstrum made the rezoning request on behalf of property owners Richard A. and Ruby M. Armstrong, and Ralph K. and Betty J. Grisham.
The request also was supported by Andy Ramirez, president of the Downtown Lawrence group.
"We were against the initial plan because it did not conform to the planning guidelines," Ramirez said. "But since this plan seems to be well thought out . . . I am here to support it."
The rezoning and annexation requests will go to the city commission at its May 14 meeting, said planner Dave Guntert.
He said the planning commission next will address Wal-Mart's platting and site plan requests for the proposed new store.
IF PLANS are approved, Wal-Mart could begin construction on the new store in June or July, he said.
Lietz said construction of similar Wal-Mart stores typically takes seven months.
Lungstrum said the building housing Wal-Mart's current store could be leased or rented to a variety of businesses or government agencies.
"There will be no problem with that," he said. "It could be used for just about anything."
The planning commission in February rejected an application to rezone land on the west side of Iowa street near 33rd Street.
That request was for about 26 acres on the current site of Floyd's Bait Shop, 3301 Iowa, and land to the south.
The first request was not recommended by the planning staff because it did not conform with planning guides.
The planning staff recommended approval of the second request because they said it conforms with goals and policies of Plan '95 and the South Lawrence Trafficway Corridor Use Plan.