Wal-Mart's trademark smiley face was nowhere to be seen Tuesday night.
City commissioners on a 3-2 vote rejected the latest plans by the world's largest retailer to build a new Wal-Mart at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.
The big question now is whether the city's rejection will cause Wal-Mart and developers to restart a series of lawsuits claiming the city has illegally denied the project a building permit.
Wal-Mart and developers weren't commenting about that possibility after the three-hour meeting. But they were plenty peeved.
"Once again, three city commissioners have chosen to completely ignore their own staff recommendations and their own ordinances to stop Wal-Mart," said Bill Newsome, who is part of the development group that owns the corner lot.
A spokeswoman with Wal-Mart said the company would review the City Commission's decision and determine how to move forward in the next "couple of days."
City Commissioners Boog Highberger, Mike Rundle and David Schauner voted against the plan for a 99,840-square-foot store, while Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Sue Hack had lobbied to send the plan back to the Planning Commission for further debate.
Concerns about how much traffic the store would place on Sixth Street, whether the buildings on the site met the city's commercial design guidelines and whether the community could absorb the additional retail development all were expressed by the trio of commissioners and a host of Lawrence residents.
"Somebody will be rushing to Wal-Mart to get a item they don't need, and they'll hit a kid," Lawrence resident Lisa Day warned commissioners.
Developers, though, contended that all the appropriate traffic studies had found that the Sixth Street corridor was designed to carry the amount of traffic the store would generate. The city's planning staff also recommended the project for approval.
But city commissioners were presented with a split decision from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission, which in August voted 5-5 on whether the project should be approved.
Several city commissioners echoed many of the concerns made by planning commissioners. Highberger, who often is a swing vote on development issues on the City Commission, said he was particularly disappointed by the project's design. He noted that the developers were touting several berms they had added to shield the parking lot from Sixth Street motorists.
"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," Highberger said.
Planning staff members, though, said the project met the city's commercial design standards. Developers also said developers went beyond what was called for in many cases, noting that they had ordered mature trees to plant on the site instead of the typical young trees that are included in most new developments.
"It was a cost factor, but Wal-Mart did it in a show of good faith," said Todd Thompson, a Lawrence attorney representing Wal-Mart.
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»
More legal tussles?
Whether any good faith exists between the two parties now is the proverbial million-dollar question.
If Wal-Mart and the developers restart the lawsuits, the city could end up having a larger Wal-Mart than what was included in the retailer's most recent plans. One of the lawsuits seeks to have the court order the city to grant a building permit for a previously requested 132,000-square-foot Wal-Mart store.
If the lawsuits are restarted, Scott Beeler, an Overland Park attorney representing the city, said the city would respond accordingly.
"The city is perfectly prepared to defend itself in the lawsuits," Beeler said.
Wal-Mart, the city and the developers agreed in March to put the lawsuits on hold while planners reviewed this latest proposal for the corner. Wal-Mart could choose to do something similar again. The city left the option open for Wal-Mart to submit new plans that would address the traffic and design concerns.
Some city commissioners, though, made it clear that they thought Wal-Mart already had done quite a lot. Hack said she thought the retailer had shown the intersection was capable of handling the projected traffic volumes. And Amyx said he disagreed with fellow commissioners who thought the building didn't meet design standards.
"I think everyone has worked in the spirit of the agreement," Amyx said.