And you thought this was a done deal.
Despite a legal agreement between the city and developers wanting to build a new Wal-Mart in northwest Lawrence, it became clear Wednesday that the project is anything but settled.
Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commissioners early Wednesday morning failed to give plans for a new Wal-Mart at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive a positive recommendation. Commissioners split 5-5 on the plan after debating the project for about five hours Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.
"I think we're losing sight of how much traffic will be generated by this project," said Planning Commissioner John Haase, who said he sided with neighbors who were concerned that the project would cause traffic to begin cutting through their neighborhoods. "This is a major automobile magnet."
The split vote by planning commissioners, though, doesn't kill the controversial project. It just adds an extra dose of uncertainty, and perhaps time, to the project.
City commissioners still have final authority to approve the project, but because it didn't receive a positive recommendation from the Planning Commission, it must receive four votes from the five-member City Commission to receive immediate approval. If the project only receives three votes, then it must be sent back to the Planning Commission to be debated again. Following that debate, regardless of the Planning Commission's action, the City Commission can approve the development with three votes.
More about the development plans
- 6News video: Planning Commission split on Wal-Mart proposal
- Planning Commission split on proposed Wal-Mart (08-31-06)
- 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
Whether city commissioners will support the project - which proposes a 99,985-square-foot Wal-Mart and four other commercial buildings on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive - is an open question. City commissioners largely said Thursday that they were waiting to read the Planning Commission minutes and receive other information about the development. The project likely will be debated by city commissioners in the next several weeks.
City commissioners have a long history with the project. The development was the subject of a series of lawsuits in Douglas County District Court. The developers claimed the city illegally denied a building permit for a 132,100-square-foot Wal-Mart store, but the city countered that there were conditions on the zoning of the property that disallowed the discount retailer.
A resolution appeared to be near, though, in April when the two sides signed a legal agreement putting the lawsuits on hold while Wal-Mart submitted its plans for a smaller store. City attorneys have long stressed the agreement was not a "settlement." Instead, the agreement only put the lawsuits on hold while the new project sought approval.
City attorneys reminded planning commissioners of that point Tuesday.
"I want to make it clear that the fact we have entered into an agreement does not mean this project comes with an endorsement from the City Commission," said interim City Manager David Corliss, who also is the city's director of legal services. "The applicants are here and must follow the same procedure as everyone else."
The settlement, however, does state that the city agrees to the size of the new Wal-Mart store and the surrounding buildings.
If the project ultimately is not approved by the City Commission, Wal-Mart won't need to file any new lawsuits. Instead, they'll be able to simply ask the court to restart the existing suits, which were just days from trial when the agreement was reached in April.
If Wal-Mart were to win those suits, the company would be free to build a much larger store on the site and add more additional retail businesses around the store. The current plan Wal-Mart seeks approval for includes 128,000 square feet of retail space on the corner. The plan that is part of the lawsuit that Wal-Mart could choose to restart would allow for 154,000 square feet of retail space.
Angie Stoner, a spokeswoman with Wal-Mart, said it was premature to comment on what Wal-Mart might do if its current plan is denied. She said the retailer was focusing on winning approval from city commissioners for its new plan.