Walmart's desire to build a Neighborhood Market on Forum Drive near the 18th Street and Forum Drive roundabout got no support from the Rolla Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday evening.
Walmart’s desire to build a Neighborhood Market on Forum Drive near the 18th Street and Forum Drive roundabout got no support from the Rolla Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday evening.
Following a public hearing with presentations from Walmart representatives and property owner Robert L. Davis, as well as counter-arguments from a Country Mart representative and several neighbors, the commission voted 3-5 against sending the rezoning request on to the council with a recommendation from the commission.
Voting for the recommendation were Don Brown, Steve Shields and Jack Morris.
Voting against the recommendation were Janese Martin, Greg Sawyer, Robert Anderson, Monte Shields and Russell Schmidt.
The request that the 8.04-acre tract be rezoned from R-1 (single family district) to C-3 (highway commercial district) will advance to the council for another public hearing before the council makes a final decision on an ordinance that would rezone the property.
“We couldn’t help but feel it was a vote to regulate competition,” John Bisio, director of public affairs and governmental relations for Walmart, told the Daily News afterward while he and other company officials conferred outside Rolla City Hall.
Walmart filed the rezoning request shortly after a development company began working with the council and the city administration on a plan to redevelop the aging Forum Plaza shopping center, which is less than a mile away from the site picked by Walmart.
Part of that Forum Plaza redevelopment is the demolition of the building that holds Furniture Express and construction of a new 45,000- to 47,000-square-foot building for Country Mart, which has operated several years on the other end of the shopping center in a 30,000-square-foot building.
The Neighborhood Market would be a 41,000- to 42,000-square-foot building. Rick Rohlfing, a Washington, Missouri, consulting engineer, told the commission it would include a fueling area with six gasoline pumps. The market would include groceries, a deli and bakery, produce, package liquor sales and a pharmacy with a drive-up window.
Kansas City attorney Christine T. Bushyhead, representing Walmart in the rezoning request hearing, said Walmart is aware of the “struggling shopping center” less than a mile away from the site.
She said that in communities across the country, businesses generally spring up around Walmart, so she said it is possible a Neighborhood Market “might enhance that struggling shopping center.”
Joe Polizzi, vice president and general counsel for Country Mart and Town and Country Supermarket, a Salem-based regional chain of supermarkets, told the Rolla City Council Monday night that a Walmart store like the Neighborhood Market could cause the Forum Plaza to “go dark.”
Tuesday night he focused on how the rezoning would fail to comply with the city’s comprehensive land use plan for that area.
Community Development Director John Petersen told the commissioners he recommended the rezoning request, for it meets all the legal requirements, although he did acknowledge some qualms about the development’s proximity to neighbors.
In the public hearing, Bushyhead said the company sought a C-3 zoning to allow for the operation of the gasoline pumps, the liquor store and the pharmacy. Having a lower commercial zoning would require conditional use permits, which would require additional hearings.
Bushyhead said the company would be willing to go along with limitations written into the rezoning ordinance to prevent all the “intense” uses allowed by a C-3 zoning.
Rohlfing presented several slides regarding the impact on traffic, stormwater drainage, utilities and landscaping.
Noting the building would be much smaller than the existing Walmart Supercenter, which is 167,000 square feet, on South Highway 63, Rohlfing said the Neighborhood Market would provide 85-95 jobs, both part-time and full-time as well as managerial.
Because of the lay of the land, much excavation will be required, and this would help screen the building from the neighbors. There will be plenty of buffering he said, and the landscape plan would add more trees and shrubs.
Lighting will be fully LED lights on 25-foot poles with 3-foot bases. The illumination off the property will be minimal.
The traffic flow will be off Forum Drive. Delivery trucks will go to the docks behind the building, which will be screened by the rock wall from the cut into the hillside, as well as fencing and landscaping.
Rohlfing said Walmart is not asking for any tax incentives.
Davis reminded the commission that he will be required to build the 18th Street extension if the property sells. He pledged that it will be “nice street with sidewalks on both sides.”
In his opposing presentation, Polizzi noted that the comprehensive land use plan includes statements that the city will work to provide developments that bring to the city a variety of jobs. The plan also pledges to retain existing companies and to encourage their expansion.
Polizzi said the Forum Plaza redevelopment is poised to revitalize a blighted area.
“We’re in a commercial district already,” he said, so no rezoning is necessary, and the Forum Plaza will not affect the neighbors negatively.
He expressed doubts that the rezoning and the subsequent construction of a 41,000-plus-square-foot supermarket near the roundabout would not have any negative impact on traffic or on the neighbors’ homes.
Country Mart does not accept deliveries 24 hours a day, as the Neighborhood Market would, he said.
Asked by Morris about the tax incentives that will go along with the redevelopment of the Forum, Polizzi said the tax plan would not result in any loss of revenue from what is currently being received.
Several neighbors attended. Those who spoke expressed concern about storm drainage, traffic and loss of property values.
Prior to the vote, Brown noted that he is the vice chairman of the Choices for People organization that is across the street from the proposed development. Martin said Polizzi is her son-in-law, but she has no financial or commercial interest in the Forum Plaza shopping center. The commission did not ask either member to refrain from voting.
Outside city hall after the meeting, Walmart executive Bisio said, “It doesn’t have to be either/or,” regarding the Neighborhood Market and the Forum Plaza.