Archive for Saturday, November 23, 2002

Wal-Mart backs off super-size store plan

Developers hope to ease neighbor, city concerns

November 23, 2002


Wal-Mart is scrapping plans for a jumbo-size supercenter on the city's fast-growing northwest side, cutting its losses after neighborhood and planning commission opposition made it unlikely the project would receive city commission approval.

Officials associated with the project proposed for Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive said they'd be back with a scaled-down plan - and they hinted they may look for a different location.

"We have not completely given up on the site in question," said John Bisio, Wal-Mart's spokesman. "We are exploring whether there are other options we could pursue, or whether there might be some other configuration that could accommodate the footprint of a Wal-Mart Supercenter.

"I think things are somewhat in limbo."

If Wal-Mart tries again at the site, even a smaller project probably would draw resistance from residents of northwest Lawrence, who fought the first proposal.

"I think it'll still be way too big, and inconsistent with the traffic volume in that neighborhood," said David Schauner, a resident of the area. "They're going to destroy that neighborhood."

Todd Thompson, attorney for the landowners, said developers were taking steps to placate neighbors' worries.

"I think what they're trying to do is address some of the concerns that were addressed at the planning commission meeting and at the neighborhood meeting, and come back with a plan that does address those issues," Thompson said.

The original proposal had been scheduled for city commission consideration Dec. 3. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission voted in October to recommend denial of the project; overriding it would have required an unlikely supermajority of at least 4-1 on the city commission.

As proposed, the store would have occupied 190,000 square feet, plus another 9,000 square feet for an outdoor garden center, on 21 acres at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. The Wal-Mart would have included a full-service grocery store and eventually be open 24 hours a day.

Developers planned to use trees, berms and a brick wall to screen the center from its neighbors. The facade would have been red brick instead of the cream exterior common to Wal-Marts; the garden center would have featured brick pillars and fake wrought-iron molding.

The store also was designed to conceal its delivery and car-repair areas from nearby neighborhoods.

The site's developers already have permission to build 155,000 square feet of store space on 19.19 acres at the location. Some smaller Wal-Mart Supercenters take up as little as 110,000 square feet; the Wal-Mart store on South Iowa Street occupies 122,000 square feet.

Some planning commissioners have indicated they'd cast a friendlier eye on a proposal that didn't exceed the current 155,000-square-feet limit.

Thompson said the next plan would probably be for a smaller store.

"Since size was the biggest issue discussed, I'd say that's a safe assumption," he said.

Store and development officials would not offer a timeline for when a new proposal would be offered.

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