Plans to build a controversial new Wal-Mart store at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive failed to clear a major hurdle Wednesday night, as planning commissioners ended a five-hour debate on the project in a deadlock.
Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners split 5-5 on whether to recommend that the Lawrence City Commission approve a plan to build a new 99,985-square-foot Wal-Mart store on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.
The tie vote ultimately does little to hurt or help the project. City commissioners still have the final authority to approve or deny the project. They are expected to take the issue up in two to three weeks.
A Wal-Mart representative said the retailer would ask the City Commission to approve the project, despite the lack of a positive recommendation from the Planning Commission.
"We have proposed a store that we believe fits in well with the area and the community," said Angie Stoner, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman.
Planning commissioners ended their meeting at 1 a.m. this morning, with two camps of planning commissioners firmly split on the development.
Some planning commissioners said the development had a strong design and was well thought out.
"With this project and the project proposed on the other corner, this intersection could very easily be the nicest intersection in Lawrence," said Planning Commissioner Tom Jennings.
Other planning commissioners, though, said the project was still too large for the area and was not designed well enough to meet the city's new commercial design guidelines. Some also expressed concern that the store would create major traffic problems along Sixth Street.
"Right now, you are asking for too much, and I'm going to have to deny this plan and hope for a better one," Commissioner David Burress said.
Planning commissioners Brad Finkeldei, Joe Harkins, Grant Eichhorn, Dennis Lawson, and Tom Jennings voted in favor of the project's preliminary development plan. Commissioners David Burress, Susan Erickson, John Haase, Holly Krebs, and Lisa Harris voted against it.
More about the development plans
- 6News video: Officials discuss Wal-Mart proposal
- Planning commission to discuss Wal-Mart, subdivision plans (08-20-06)
- City gateway taking shape (08-19-06)
- LawrenceKS.org: Report from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department on previously-approved development plan
- LawrenceKS.org: Planning Department report showing the city commission's rezoning of the property
The project has been the subject of a lawsuit. Developers, led by local investors Doug Compton, Bill Newsome and the Wal-Mart corporation, have sued the city for denying a building permit for the retailer.
The city denied the building permit because it believed the zoning on the property does not allow it. The developers have contended that the approved zoning allows 154,000 square feet of retail to be built on the corner. But the two sides have agreed to put the lawsuit on hold while the city considers Wal-Mart's new plan that features a much smaller store than originally proposed.
Todd Thompson, a Lawrence attorney representing Wal-Mart, said planning commissioners needed to consider the contentious history of the site.
"I think you have to ask yourself whether this plan is a good move for the corner, or do you want to stay with what you have on the books and roll the dice on the court action," Thompson said.
Some area residents were urging a rolling of the dice. Kirk McClure, an associate professor of urban planning at Kansas University, said low growth rates in both population and income levels indicate the city cannot handle the new retail sector.
"We already have a bloated supply of retail space," McClure said, adding that the city should not approve any new retail developments for two to three years except for limited neighborhood centers.
A retail market analysis prepared by the developer, which used data from a citywide retail study that was previously approved by the city, showed the development could easily be absorbed by the community.
Planning commissioners also were urged by neighbors to deny the project. Gwen Klingenberg, president of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, said she remained concerned that the project would cause large amounts of traffic to accumulate on Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive that would ultimately cut through the area neighborhoods.
The city's planning staff, though, approved a traffic study that showed that both Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive could accommodate the increased traffic. Klingenberg and neighbors, though, said the study was flawed because it didn't adequately account for traffic generated by nearby Free State High School. The developers contend the study did factor student traffic into the equation.
Some members of the public did speak in favor of the project. Greg DiVilbiss, who is an owner of the shopping center at the southwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive said he had spoken with many retailers in the immediate area who support the project because of the additional shoppers it would add to the area.