Archive for Thursday, October 24, 2002

Planning commission rejects Wal-Mart rezoning proposal

October 24, 2002


The Lawrence-Douglas Planning Commission on Wednesday voted against rezoning and development plans for a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on the northwest corner of Sixth and Wakarusa.

The often-contentious debate came down a divide between commissioners who believed the project simply was bigger than what the market could bear and those who said the market itself should be allowed to decide.

"It overfills the glass," Commissioner Jane Bateman said. "At some point, you can't put any more milk in the glass."

"This is a growing part of the community," Commissioner Roger Schenewerk said. "The market will grow around it."

Bateman made the motion to deny, and it was seconded by Commissioner Ernie Angino. They were joined by Commissioners Myles Schachter, Tom Jennings, Dennis Lawson and David Burress. The motion was opposed by Schenewerk and Commissioners Sue Pine and Ron Durflinger.

Commissioner John Haase abstained from the vote because his business, Collection Bureau of Lawrence, does work for Wal-Mart.

The recommendation now goes to the Lawrence City Commission, which will consider the matter for a final ruling in early November.

Specially designed

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

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

The store was also designed to conceal delivery and car-repair areas of the store from sight of nearby neighborhoods. Even that invited skepticism from opponents.

"If it's such a great land use, why are they trying to make this the Wal-Mart stealth store?" said Lawrence resident Timothy Riling.

Planning staffers recommended denial of rezoning and a development plan for the store. They said the proposal didn't fit in with nearby stores and that it would, along with those stores, raise the total commercial acreage at the intersection to nearly double what was recommended in Horizon 2020, the city-county long-range plan.

But developers said the land  more than 21 acres total  was needed to create a good store that would serve customers with minimal adverse affect on traffic. They said the SuperTarget on South Iowa Street was bigger than the proposed Wal-Mart.

"The land the way it's currently zoned would fit for a standard Wal-Mart store," said Ray Frankenberg, an engineer in charge of the store site's design.

"But the way the market and Wal-Mart are heading, they want to put in supercenters when they build a new store," he said. "That's what the market wants."

Todd Thompson, a Lawrence attorney representing Wal-Mart, said the proposed store met a number of Horizon 2020 objectives, such as economic development. He said the store would create more than 400 jobs and generate more than $1.4 million in annual sales taxes for the city and county.

Opponents rule day

Most of those making public comment Wednesday were opposed to the plan. The only exception: Greg DeVilbiss, principal owner of the shopping center on the intersection's southwest corner.

Opponents criticized the size of the proposed store, along with its possible effects on traffic, downtown businesses and nearby Free State High School.

Lawrence school board member Austin Turney said his colleagues were concerned about the last issue.

"Going to Free State, I know high school drivers are absolutely horrid  there's fender benders practically every day," said Alex Newman, a Free State student. "Having 800 (new) cars an hour during the peak hours is absolutely insane."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.