Baldwin City Wal-Mart Inc. has dropped plans to build a Walmart Express at a Baldwin City site that spurred community protests last month.
Although the announcement of the decision left the door open for the retail giant to explore another site in the city, it ended any further city consideration of the site on U.S. Highway 56 between Eisenhower Avenue and Washington Street.
“Currently, our Baldwin City customers have to travel long distances to shop at Walmart,” company spokesperson Delia Garcia wrote in an email to the Baldwin City Signal. “While we remain committed to finding ways to help them save time and money on the general merchandise, groceries and pharmacy services they want and need for their families, we have made a business decision to not pursue a Walmart Express at the proposed location.”
The announcement came 17 days after the Baldwin City Planning Commission tabled a site plan for a Walmart Express on the property between Eisenhower Avenue and Washington Street pending a traffic study and a Baldwin City Council review of the site plan’s compatibility with the city’s comprehensive plan.
The proposal would have built a nearly 12,000-square-foot store with fuel station, pharmacy and grocery with meat, dairy and fresh produce departments.
Collin Biesler, Baldwin City community development director, said the city had not heard from BFA Engineering, the firm representing Wal-Mart Inc., since a July 17 teleconference. During that conference, BFA representatives were told the Kansas Department of Transportation agreed for the need of a traffic study. KDOT has an agreement with the city in which it must review and approve intersection changes within the city on U.S. 56.
The Walmart plan stirred a protest petition that was signed by more than 900 people in the week after it was learned a Walmart Express was planned for the city. About 100 residents opposed to the proposal appeared at both a July 14 Baldwin City Council meeting and a July 15 Baldwin Planning Commission meeting, at which the a site plan for the store was considered. The residents expressed concern Baldwin City Market, two existing pharmacies and two convenience stores would not survive if the Walmart Express opened.
The company's announcement Friday also came among rumors the proposed store site had been sold to another buyer. Roger Johnson, the property owner who brought the re-platting to the planning commission in June, refused Friday to comment on any sale.
The news prompted a fist-pump from Frank Foye, owner of the Santa Fe Market convenience store four blocks west of the proposed Walmart Express. Foye said he was grateful for the community support and the role it may have played in the decision.
"I think it says people here like their small-town atmosphere and want it to stay that way," he said. "That's fine with me, because that's what I want."
In the parking lot of Baldwin City Market, before stocking up on groceries for the weekend, Jennifer Johanning said the Walmart statement "was a good start." But the wording that left open the possibility the company would look for another site had her concerned, said Johanning, who signed the project petition and attended the city council and planning commission meetings to speak out against the Walmart Express.
"I intend to stay diligent," she said. "You can bet we are all going to pay more attention to any re-platting or zoning change."