The size of the proposed development at Sixth Street and Wakarusa is the issue, not the intended tenant.
This evening, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission is scheduled to consider whether owner-developers will be allowed to build a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.
Developers of the site already have approval of the planning commission and city commission for a 155,000-square-foot retail development on the highly visible corner. In fact, there are preliminary plans showing the 155,000 square feet divided into several separate buildings rather than a single large facility.
The question before the commissioners is whether to allow developers to enlarge the acreage of the site and obtain the necessary rezoning for the added acreage to accommodate a 190,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Superstore. As noted above, developers already have the OK for a 155,000-square-foot retail development on the original site, but they want slightly more than two additional acres to accommodate the larger retail store.
Developers say they would be able to provide better parking and traffic access for the single supercenter building than for a development that included several stores. Likewise, their plans call for a building that would have a lower silhouette and be less visible from the street than would be the case with three or four separate buildings on the site.
Wal-Mart is said to have approved changes in the exterior appearance of the large building such as adding landscaped berms and lowering the parking area. Developers also would add additional traffic lanes on Wakarusa north of Sixth Street.
Developers claim the slightly larger site they seek would allow them to place the Wal-Mart building further away from the intersection and allow them to provide better screening for trucks servicing the store.
Some in City Hall, as well as others who have expressed strong opposition to the project, suggest their negative position is not due to the fact the store in question is a Wal-Mart. However, some opponents have spoken quite graphically about what they think of the type of people they believe would frequent the store.
Others have voiced their opposition based on the proximity of the store to Free State High School. Some have noted the fact Wal-Mart would sell firearms and would bring added traffic to the site.
Increased traffic is a justified concern voiced by many, and there are sure to be other reasons some justified, some not offered tonight as to why the rezoning of several acres should be rejected.
The fact is, there will be commercial development of the site northwest of Sixth Street and Wakarusa. Traffic is sure to increase in the years to come, with or without Wal-Mart. Lawrence is growing in that direction. The city has been lax in handling the traffic patterns at this intersection and the Kansas Department of Transportation now is in the final planning stages of widening Sixth Street west of Wakarusa Drive.
Tonight's meeting is sure to bring out a large crowd, and it is hoped planning commissioners will be able to study the matter in the proper environment. City officials have no business trying to decide what effect a Wal-Mart store might have on another business; that's the responsibility of those in the retail business.
What they do have to decide is whether to approve one large retail facility on a slightly larger site than originally was approved or deny the request and stick with the 155,000 square feet of retail development on the original, somewhat smaller site. It is unfortunate that, in the minds of many, in and out of City Hall, Wal-Mart has become the primary issue, not the size of the site, the nearness of Free State High School, the traffic situation or the best use of the commercially zoned land.