Archive for Friday, October 25, 2002

Wal-Mart not giving up on N.W. Lawrence site

October 25, 2002


Don't expect Wal-Mart officials to throw up their hands and walk away from the idea of building a supercenter in Lawrence.

A Wal-Mart spokesman said Thursday that the company still was committed to the project, despite the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission's vote Wednesday against rezoning and plans for a store at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.

And while the spokesman said the rejected proposal was "appropriately sized," he left open the possibility Wal-Mart would downsize the supercenter to gain the city's go-ahead.

"I'm sure it would be an option," said John Bisio, the spokesman. "I don't think we've gotten that far."

The Lawrence City Commission has final say on the matter. But it would take a 4-1 "supermajority" of the five-member commission to override the planning commission's negative recommendation.

Those four votes probably aren't there. Commissioners David Dunfield and Mike Rundle have voted against previous "big-box" proposals for the site, and they are unlikely to change their thinking when they hear the issue in mid-November.

"I would just say it (the negative recommendation) is consistent with my thinking on the previous proposal," Dunfield said Thursday.

As proposed, the store would occupy 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 include a full-service grocery store and eventually be open 24 hours a day.

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

Planning Commissioner Jane Bateman, who made the motion to deny the plan, said Thursday that she might give approval if Wal-Mart could fit within the existing limits on the site.

"I would consider it if they come back with a different development plan, but with no more square feet and no more acreage" than what's already allowed, she said. "We'd have to see what the plan looks like."

Bisio said the smaller plan probably wouldn't have the attractive landscaping included in the current proposal, and it might be less satisfactory to customers used to Wal-Mart Supercenters in Olathe and Topeka.

"You don't want to undersize your store," he said.

A smaller store might not satisfy northwest Lawrence residents who oppose the proposal. Martha Perala, who helped gather signatures on an opposition petition, said she didn't want any big-box store to bring its traffic to her neighborhood.

"One gentleman mentioned it should be zoned down perhaps some office space or a different business should be there," she said. "If one franchise business goes in that area, you're going to have a lot more down there."

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