More about Wal-Mart at 6th and Wakarusa
- Joint statment about Wal-Mart lawsuit
- Wal-Mart back, with bigger request (10-28-06)
- Wal-Mart question up for city approval (10-23-06)
- Wal-Mart proposal hits another roadblock (09-01-06)
- Planning Commission split on proposed Wal-Mart (08-31-06)
- City gateway taking shape (08-19-06)
- Wal-Mart reveals design for Sixth Street location (08-15-06)
- More stories in our Wal-Mart on Wakarusa section Â»
Plans for a Wal-Mart store at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive are scheduled to be debated by city commissioners tonight.
The store, which has sparked controversy and lawsuits, would be on the northwest corner of the intersection. Some neighbors have expressed concern that the store will create too much traffic for the area, but developers of the site have said numerous traffic studies have shown otherwise.
The meeting begins at 6:35 p.m. tonight at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.
Journal-World staff writer Chad Lawhorn will be posting a live blog in this space about the Wal-Mart discussion throughout the city commission meeting.
6:35 p.m. Hi, I'm Chad Lawhorn, city hall reporter for the Journal-World. City commissioners should begin their Wal-Mart discussion shortly. They currently are discussing other items on their agenda before they get to the Wal-Mart issue. Before we get started, I want to apologize beforehand for any misspellings or typos that occur as part of this blog. I will be describing the events of the meeting in real time, so this report does not have the benefit of a proofreading before it is posted to the Web, nor does it allow me the normal time to craft a story. After the meeting, we will edit the blog to correct any typos. Also, a brief explanation of what to expect is in order. We're calling this a blog, but it will be more of a description of what is happening at the meeting. I won't be offering my own comments or opinions as you might expect a blogger to do. You, of course, are welcome to do so in the reader comment section that is below. Please check back in soon. I anticipate the discussion will start shortly.
7:05 p.m. Hang in there. We're getting closer to starting. Commissioners have one more item on their agenda to discuss before they get to the Wal-Mart issue. A brief description of the scene: About half of the 50 chairs in the meeting room are filled. There also are at least a dozen people in chairs that have been set up in the lobby area of City Hall, but it is not a full house at the moment.
7:45 p.m. We're off to the races. Commissioners have wrapped up the items leading up to the Wal-Mart discussion.
7:46 p.m. Lisa Pool, a staff planner with the city's planning department. She provides a summary of what is being requested. The total commercial retail space is limited to 128,000 square feet on the northwest corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. The Wal-Mart store would be 99,840 square feet, with a 6,147 square feet garden center. Also 5,000, 7,300, 7,400 and 1,800 square foot buildings will be allowed on the site for other users that have not been identified yet. She reminds the commission that planning commissioners approved rezoning on a 6-4 vote, but the preliminary development plan was not approved. Planning commissioners deadlocked on it 5-5.
7:52 p.m. Pool continues. Says all the appropriate studies presented by the developers have been approved by the planning staff. She said the developers are using many native materials for the exterior of the building, which is part of the city's design guidelines. Reminds city commissioners that it will take 4 votes on the 5 member city commission to approve it tonight since it was not approved by the Planning Commission. With 3 votes the commission could send it back to the planning commission for reconsideration. After that meeting, city commissioners can then approve the plan with a simple 3 vote majority.
7:55 Mayor Mike Amyx. He asks about a change in the plan that would rezone a piece of ground adjacent to the site from residential to open space. The open space area would be used as a stormwater detention area. Pool said that rezoning will be required to go through the Planning Commission and ultimately the City Commission. The above ground detention area will replace a below ground stormwater detention area that was on the Wal-Mart site.
7:58 p.m. Commissioner David Schauner. He asks about whether a retail market analysis has been done. Staff members said they had. Commissioner Boog Highberger asks how the staff has interperated that this site meets the city's design guidelines. He expressed concern that the Wal-Mart store was several hundred feet back of the street. Pool responded that the guidelines are just guidelines. She said bringing a big box retailer so close to the street may actually hurt the pedestrian-friendly goals that the commission is trying to acheive. Schauner wants to confirm that the staff believe having the building set back makes the development more walkable. Pool responds that the staff had to look at a number of issues, including the points where vehicles would be entering the site.
8:04 p.m. Amyx asks commissioners whether it is the intent of the commission to decide this tonight or send it back to the planning commission for more discussion
"I want to make sure the plan that is before us is the plan the planning commission actually voted on," Amyx said.
Amyx questioned whether the plan was the same since the stormwater detention area has been change.
Schauner said that he wants to hear some public comment, but does have concern that the planning commission hasn't seen the changes.
"This issue is so significant to the community, I'm willing to sit through two or three public hearings if we need to," Schauner.
Amyx says he wants to hear the applicant and then take one hour of public comment and then decide whether it should proceed or go back to the planning commission.
8:09 p.m. Todd Thompson, a Lawrence attorney representing Wal-Mart. He said the plan is very similar to what the planning commission reviewed. There has been some additional landscaping added. Some parking spaces have been converted from impervious to pervious spaces to improve drainage. He said the changes have addressed several conditions the planning commission had put on the project. He expressed optimism that the project could now win approval at the Planning Commission. He said he would now like the planning commission to take a look at the preliminary plan now that several of the planning commission conditions have been met. Many of those conditions were fairly technical in nature, such as location of parking spots, landscaping issues, and other issues related to the design.
"It has been enhanced in a lot of small but substantial ways," Thompson said.
He said the addition of the above ground stormwater detention area will improve the plan. The land currently is zoned for residential development.
"It will reduce the amount of traffic in the area," Thompson said. "That open space will not produce any traffic."
8:16 Thompson continues. He reminds commissioners that the city commission had previously approved the site for 154,000 square feet of retail space. Developers are asking that it be reduced to 128,000 square feet. He said having the building back from the street helps Wal-Mart screen the loading dock from the view of the driving public.
"That would not be possible if the store is up on the street," Thompson said.
He said the out buildings of the property have been brought all the way out to the corners to help meet the city's commercial design guidelines. He said the number of trees in the plan is "several times" over what is required in the city code. He said that the parking lot of the store is seven feet below the elevation of Sixth Street.
"And there has been lots of extra landscaping added to screen vehicles," Thompson said.
8:21 Ray Frankenberg, an engineer representing Wal-Mart. He tells commissioners that they moved the out parcel buildings closer to the corner to be more pedestrian friendly. He said that was a suggestion of the Planning Commission. He said he had real concerns about putting the Wal-Mart building close to the street because it is a much larger building than you would typically see up close to a street like Sixth Street. He said that the parking lots also have a series of 3 foot berms in the parking lot to help screen parked cars from Sixth Street motorists. He also said that much of the northern part of the property is heavily bermed. That is what screens the loading dock. It will be screened also by a 13 foot wall.
"There is no way to see our service area from behind the building," Frankenberg said.
He also talked about sustainability issues.
"Wal-Mart is very big on sustainability," Frankenberg said.
He said all the concrete to build the box culverts needed for the underground stormwater drainage that was proposed in the original plan was not sustainable because it requires large amounts of greenhouse gas to produce.
8:29 Thompson tells the commission that Wal-Mart has agreed to buy and plant mature trees on the site. The trees will be 4 inches to 10 inches in diameter, while city code only requires 2.5 inches.
"It was a cost factor, but Wal-Mart did it in a show of good faith," Thompson said.
8:31 p.m. Public comment begins. Kirk McClure, a Lawrence resident. He wants to talk about the retail impact this store would ahve on the community. McClure, who is also a faculty member at KU's school of urban planning. The question that needs to be asked is if the community can absorb this development.
"In the case of this development, the answer is clearly no," McClure said.
McClure said the retail market analysis for this project has been flawed. He said the consultants are using retail sales numbers that aren't adequetely adjusted for inflation. That makes it appear that there has been more retail growth in the community than what has actually occured, he said.
"This is a recipe for Topeka," McClure said. "It is a recipe for an extremely overbuilt community. We can not absorb this retail space at this time."
He said that he believes the project will cause a about 100,000 square feet of space in the community to go vacant, and create blight in the community.
8:37 p.m. Gwen Klingenberg, a West Lawrence Neighborhood resident. She expressed concerns that the traffic study for the project is flawed.
"The city has agreed to every commercial project proposed along Sixth Street," Klingenberg said. "Wal-Mart is a very large traffic generator."
She said she believes the city should more closely look at projections made by the Kansas Department of Transportation that warn that too much retail on the corridor could create significant traffic problems.
She said the design standards for the community require that there be a sense of place. She said one particular part of the design standards mandate that buildings not dominate the site. She said the design guidelines call for a "single large dominant building mass" to be avoided.
"Wal-Mart should take the lead in developing a project that follows the design standards," said Klingenberg.
She shows pictures of Wal-Mart stores in Chicago, Korea, Germany and in Colo. that looks significantly different than what is proposed for Lawrence.
She also is asking that the grocery store component of the proposed Wal-Mart be removed from the plan.
"It will devastate the grocery store that is across the street," Klingenberg said.
She urged the commission to deny the plan rather than send it back to the planning commission.
8:50 p.m. Lisa Day, a Lawrence resident. She said she does not believe the community wants another Wal-Mart. She said she's confident that it would be opposed if put to a public vote. She has grave concerns about traffic safety in the area.
"Somebody will be rushing to Wal-Mart to get an item that they don't need, and they'll hit a kid," Day said.
8:54 p.m. Hubbard Collingsworth, a Lawrence resident, asks what routes the supply trucks for the store will be taking to enter the store. He said he had concerns about truck traffic in the area.
8:55 p.m. Susan Chi. She said she was concerned that the traffic impact study was done during the summer when nearby Free State High School was in session. She thinks that led to the traffic numbers in the study being less than what they would be otherwise.
8:58 Name not available. West Lawrence resident expresses concern that this is not the right location for the project because of all the young drivers who will be in the area.
8:59 Alan Cowles, president of West Lawrence Neighborhood Assn.
"Yes, traffic is our biggest concern," Cowles said, mentioning that no one wanted to create another 23rd Street traffic issue.
He also expressed concern about the Wal-Mart having a grocery department.
"If you put a large grocery store on the Northwest corner (Wal-Mart), you are going to have an empty shell on the southeast corner (Dillons grocery store)," Cowles said.
Cowles said he would like to have a written commitment from Wal-Mart that they would not seek to expand at that site.
"I still have a concern about expansion when you are dealing with an entity that has so much money, and that has a repuation in my opinion of bullying small communities," Cowles said.
9:05 Paula Pepin, a West Lawrence resident. She asked a question about what could be done at Wakarusa to improve walkability.
9:06 p.m. Greg DiVilbiss, owns the shopping center on the southwest corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. He said he believes Wal-Mart has exceeded the commercial design guidelines.
"My family and the tenants in the center are very excited about the look of this proposed project," DiVilibiss said.
He said his reading of Horizon 2020 made it clear that this would be a commercial area.
"If people don't like living next to commercial development, I suggest people not build their homes next to it," DiVilbiss said. "It has been known for years that this area is going to be commercial."
He said this is a better traffic situation than exists at Lawrence High, which is surrounded by development and large amounts of traffic.
9:13 p.m. Name not available. A West Lawrence resident who expressed concern that DiVilbiss had underestimated the dangers of having teenagers driving in the area. She said that she felt Wal-Mart was trying to bully the city into accepting this plan by having the possibility of a larger store approved there via a lawsuit that has been put on hold in Douglas County District Court.
9:16 p.m. Public comment period ends. Frankenberg, the engineer for Wal-Mart, responded to questions brought up by citizens. He said that truck traffic coming to the store would largely come off the South Lawrence Trafficway. He said that the traffic engineers had taken Free State traffic into account. He said that Free State High's peak traffic period would be different than the peak traffic time for this store. He also said there is "no discussion at all on Wal-Mart's behalf" about expanding into the vacant lot that is east of the proposed site for Wal-Mart.
9:21 p.m. Thompson, the attorney for Wal-Mart. He said Wal-Mart should not be required to remove the grocery department from the proposal. He said people have misspoken about the ability of the adjacent Dillons store to compete with Wal-Mart.
"I do have a bit of a problem calling the nation's largest grocery store chain, Kroger, a neighborhood grocery story," Thompson said, noting Kroger is the owner of Dillons.
9:25 p.m. Frankenberg answers more questions. He said Saturdays likely would be the day that Wal-Mart would generate the most traffic.
Schauner asks why he should care that Wal-Mart has met all the conditions mentioned by the Planning Commission, since the Planning Commission did not vote to approve the plan even with those conditions.
Thompson said he thought showing the planning commissioners that all the conditions had been met would gain the project "a vote or two" among planning commissioners.
9:30 p.m. Amyx asks city staff whether Wakarusa Drive south of Sixth Street will have major improvements. Chuck Soules, director of public works, said that his office is studying that corridor, but said he does not anticipate any widening of the road. Schauner said it already is very difficult to make left turns on parts of Wakarusa Drive.
9:33 p.m. Commissioner Mike Rundle asks about why the retail market analysis hasn't been made available to the Planning Commission for review, rather than just having planning staff review the document. City Manager David Corliss said anything we receive from an applicant should be something the Planning Commission should have the opportunity to review. Corliss said one of the concerns staff members have is that at what point does the information become so technical that we don't want to burden the commissioners with that information.
9:39 p.m. Schauner asks whether the City Commission can approve the rezoning of the property contigent upon approval of a preliminary development plan at a later date. Staff members answer that the city does have that ability and has used it frequently.
9:43 p.m. Commissioner Boog Highberger asked about the total amount of parking spaces in the project. Pool, the staff planner, said that there were 697 parking spaces proposed. City code required that there be at least 581 spaces.
9:45 p.m. Schauner asks about the zoning of the vacant land to the east of the proposed Wal-Mart building. Staff responded that it is zoned for office, contigent upon an approved development plan. Amyx asked what could be done to stop that site from being a future expansion location for Wal-Mart. Corliss said it was difficult to prohibit a future commission from rezoning that property to be used as an expansion site for the store.
"It is a struggle to come up with an absolute, iron clad, lockbock guarantee," Corliss said.
9:50 p.m. Rundle asks how restrictive the city can be in the conditions that the city places on a planned commercial development. Interim Planning Director Sheila Stogsdil said the city can restrict a preliminary development plan to a single use, if it desires.
9:53 p.m. Amyx said he wanted to come back to the question of whether this is really the plan that the Planning Commission reviewed.
"I think there has been some changes to the plan," Amyx said. "I think what we are looking at here is process. I think the process should continue for at least one more meeting."
He said he appreciated the comments. He said he understood much of the concern revolved around traffic issues. He also talked about the ability to expand this project onto the vacant lot.
"That is a major concern to everybody in the area," Amyx said. "That has to be addressed."
He said that any improvements that had to be made to put a median on Wakarusa Drive would have to be done so very carefully because it would create access concerns for businesses along the corridor. But he said that the city's top priority had to be safety.
Amyx also said he had no interest in limiting grocery sales at the site.
"But that is just me," Amyx said.
9:59 p.m. Rundle said he thinks the city commission should reject the proposal tonight.
"I don't think it serves the community," Rundle said.
Rundle discusses the legal agreement that the city signed with Wal-Mart. He said he thought it made it clear that this Wal-Mart was supposed to be designed to the highest standards of any Wal-Mart store in the world.
"I certainly don't think it reflects some of the higher quality projects that Wal-Mart has done," Rundle said.
10:03 Highberger said he was disappointed when he first saw the plan. He said it has improved some since it was presented to the planning commission, but not enough.
"I still don't think this meets the spirit of our commercial design guidelines," Highberger said. "I still don't think it meets the standards."
He talks about the berming in front of the store that was meant to hide the parking.
"That's telling to me," Highberger said. "I wanted something that wasn't so bad to look at that we didn't need a 5 foot to 7 foot berm to hide it. I don't think it meets the spirit of the agreement that I entered into."
He said he would vote to deny the plan and table the rezoning requests.
10:07 p.m. Commissioner Sue Hack said she thought the size of the project was appropriate.
"I do believe this is a intersection that has been designed to accomodate this amount of retail," Hack said.
She said she does not believe that the project will cause motorists to cut through nearby neighborhoods.
She also said that Lawrence Public School officials knew this area was designated for commercial area when they purchased the land for Free State High School.
"That is why they got a good deal on it, because it was behind a commercial area," Hack said.
She said she believes that the project does meet the spirit of the commercial design guidelines.
"This is not a cookie cutter building," Hack said.
On the potential to expand on the site to the east, Hack said that is a concern that perhaps could benefit from more discussion by the Planning Commission. She said she thought it was fair to send this back to the Planning Commission. She said the Planning Commission had not seen the change in the stormwater detention area.
"I think we should let the Planning Commission see what we have seen and make a decsion based on that," Hack said.
10:13 p.m. Schauner said this project is what prompted him to get into city politics nearly five years ago. He reminds everyone that the legal agreement that the city reached with Wal-Mart made it clear that their new plan would still have to go through the full planning process required by the city.
"The problem is this is not really about Wal-Mart but really there is nobody else out there like Wal-Mart," Schauner said. "It doesn't get any bigger than Wal-Mart in our economy. They are so big because they are so popular. Lots of people shop there, and we know that generates a lot of traffic."
He said that he thinks the plan should be denied tonight. He thinks it does not fit with the city's long range plan for the intersection, which was spelled out in Horizon 2020. He also said he was concerned about the traffic that would be created in the area.
"What's really sad is I suspect tomorrow's headline will be that 'No growth commission denies Wal-Mart.' I think nothing could be further from the truth," Schauner said.
Schauner said this is not about being no-growth, but rather about following the city's long-range plans.
He said he also did not think the project met the city's commercial design guidelines.
"Nothing has answered the question of whether we can support that amount of retail, and can we handle the traffic it will create?" Schauner said.
10:23 p.m. Amyx said he disagrees with those who think this doesn't meet the city's commercial design guidelines. He said it lives up to the promises Wal-Mart made as part of the legal agreement it signed with the city to temporarily halt a series of lawsuits regarding the project.
"I think this does meet the spirit of the abeyance agreement," Amyx said. "I think everyone has worked in the spirit of the agreement."
Amyx asks what the options are for the rezoning requests. He asks if the rezoning requests can be tabled.
Corliss said they can be tabled, but there would need to be a timeline for how long it would be tabled. Highberger said he would like to table the rezoning requests until a viable development plan is brought back to the commission.
A motion is made to table the two rezoning requests for the project. It was made by Highberger and seconded by Schauner. It passed 3-2 with Hack and Amyx opposed.
10:30 p.m. A motion was made for city staff to develop findings of fact that support a denial of Wal-Mart's preliminary development plan. It was moved by Schauner and seconded by Highberger. It passed 3-2 with Amyx and Hack opposed.