Walmart is once again looking at building on an approximately 40-acre site along Ball Road, south of I-35W and east of Lexington Avenue, in Blaine.
The corporation has yet to submit an application to the city of Blaine, according to Planning and Community Development Director Bryan Schafer.
However, a Walmart-hired engineering consultant has drafted a revised traffic impact study and submitted its plan to the city and Anoka County. According to the document, the proposed Walmart has increased from 150,000 square feet to 180,000 square feet and now includes the vacant 8,000 square-foot building at the northeast corner of Lexington Avenue, which is a county highway, and Ball Road, which is a city street.
It has been almost a year since more than 70 residents filled the Cloverleaf Room at Blaine City Hall for a Dec. 14, 2011 public meeting to oppose the Walmart development at this site. The meeting was also attended by four councilmembers, Anoka County Commissioner Robyn West, State Rep. Tim Sanders and Walmart’s legal counsel.
A group of about 30 concerned citizens once again gathered in the Cloverleaf Room Nov. 28 to make citizens aware that the Walmart on Ball Road issue is not dead and to start organizing a campaign to oppose it.
The organizers of a non-profit organization called Blaine Citizens For Smart Growth say their opposition is based on site location and not the corporation itself.
“We are not anti-Walmart,” nearby 103rd Lane resident Holly Hollander said to the group of concerned citizens. “The issue is now Walmart on Ball Road.”
The concerned residents formed a non-profit and have an elected board so the group could be considered credible and accept donations, according Cathy Harrison, one of the founders who lives on 107th Avenue next to East Side Park.
One of Harrison’s friends has been a big help in getting them organized, she said. He was part of the group that opposed the Vikings stadium in Blaine and he was involved with the Occupy movement.
They created a website (www.citizens4smartgrowth.org) to keep people up-to-date on what group members have heard. They sent stacks of letters to city councilmembers and city staff last year. They made phone calls to elected officials not only on the city council, but to Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah as well.
A handful of people picketed on Black Friday weekend this year and will picket every weekend at the intersection of Ball Road and Lexington Avenue. There were 20 that came out last Saturday, Dec. 1. About 10 showed up to Blaine City Hall Monday, Dec. 3 to protest while city, county and Walmart engineers discussed the traffic impact study.
Hollander also encouraged door knocking and starting a petition to oppose the development.
Mike and Linda Larkin live on Marmon Street not far from the proposed Walmart site. They are concerned about property values for the neighborhood. Mike opposes any kind of major commercial development on that site and would prefer a lower density use such as a retirement home or a school.
Linda said when they tried to sell their home last summer, their realtor told them that the potential buyer felt Ball Road was too busy and if Walmart comes in, “it will be a race track.”
Harrison understands that the property owner Marty Harstad has the right to sell his land to Walmart. The group’s emphasis is that residents have rights as property owners, too, and they elected the city council to represent all property owners and not just one. She said if the traffic problems cannot be solved, she does not see how the council could grant Walmart a conditional use permit.
“They need to listen to us,” Harrison said.
Harstad said he purchased this approximately 40-acre property over three different purchases. The first and largest portion of about 28 acres was purchased in 1983. The zoning at the time was B3-Regional Shopping and the council rezoned the property in the late 1980s to Planned Business District (PBD).
Harstad in 2000 purchased about seven acres from Bermo and three acres from Tolerance Masters. Both parcels were rezoned to PBD at the time.
Mayor Tom Ryan said whether a Walmart or a Holiday Inn is proposed, the council must look at it.
“Sooner or later something will go there,” he said.
Councilmember Wes Hovland, one of the two council ward one representatives for this area, does not see the Walmart development happening on Ball Road because of the dramatic traffic impact it would have on the neighborhood, but this was just his opinion.
Although the property is appropriately zoned, he does not think anybody envisioned this type of use, Hovland said.
The road improvements
Walmart’s engineering consultant proposed a number of road modifications in a Nov. 13 letter sent to the respective city and county engineering departments.
MFRA Project Manager Robert Olson suggests that Ball Road mostly remain a two-lane road, although MFRA proposed an extra lane on the south side of Ball Road to accommodate the two left-hand turn lanes from southbound Lexington Avenue that it suggested. This extra Ball Road lane would end around Frazier Street. There would also be extra left- and right-turn lanes on the north side of Ball Road at Lexington Avenue.
A concrete median would be in place along Ball Road from Lexington Avenue to Hupp Street under MFRA’s proposal. A roundabout would serve as the traffic control mechanism at the main Walmart parking lot entrance and exit point at Ball Road and Hupp Street.
Schafer and County Engineer Doug Fischer said the next step is for the city, county and MFRA to sit down to discuss MFRA’s traffic study and to analyze it further.
Fischer said adding a turn lane is always more complex.
MFRA’s report acknowledged some of these challenges.
To accomodate the additional left-turn lane on southbound Lexington Avenue at the Ball Road intersection, MFRA proposes shifting southbound Lexington Avenue five to six feet to the west and the median curb would be shifted four feet to the east.
MFRA said due to improvements at Ball Road-Lexington Avenue, a number of other improvements would likely be needed. This could include adjusting the traffic signal poles, adjusting the loop detectors under the road that detect when vehicles are stopped at the traffic signal, adjusting trails and pedestrian ramps in the area, re-striping traffic lanes, small utility and traffic signs relocations and adjustments to the storm sewer and the curb and gutter.
Chris Mondry and her husband have lived on Erskine Street just south of Ball Road for 16 years and now have six-year-old and 10-year old daughters. Ray and Janet Logid live on Hupp Street near the proposed roundabout at Ball Road and they have grandkids ranging in age from one to five years old.
They and other neighborhood residents worry about the kids walking through the neighborhood if Walmart goes in. Centennial Elementary, Centennial High School and the Centennial Ice Arena are not that far away.
Although Walmart shoppers coming off I-35W and some others would use Lexington Avenue to get to and from Ball Road, impatient drivers who know the area and have no need to get to the interstate may choose to take a shortcut through the neighborhood, according to the concerned residents.
The group sent a letter to the Blaine City Council requesting that it asks the sponsors of the traffic study to address what the traffic impacts and required improvements would be on Ball Road, Ghia Street and Hupp Street next to the proposed roundabout and what the roundabout design would look like to accomodate semi-trailers going around the curve.
The residents also question who is going to pay for all these improvements. Schafer said the general expectation of the city is that the developer pays for the road improvements.
The Anoka County Highway Department raised a number of concerns that stem from the Lexington Avenue corridor. For example, the county stated in Oct. 12 comments to MFRA that queue lengths at westbound Pheasant Ridge, southbound Lexington Avenue at westbound I-35W ramps will exceed available storage.
MFRA’s response was that this is true for projected 2030 traffic counts, but not for the time period between 2013 and 2015 when Walmart is looking at building the store.
MFRA Project Manager Olson said he understands that the city and county will work together to monitor the long-range plans for the Lexington Avenue corridor.
Lexington Avenue used to be two lanes in this area until it was widened to four lanes and an interchange at I-35W was added in the mid-1990s, according to Fischer.
The pace of development along the corridor would factor into the timing of widening the road again.
Fischer said the road operates fine right now, except for some operational issues at the Pheasant Ridge and Ball Road intersections.
There is no plan to widen Lexington Avenue in this area at this point, Fischer said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]