Ever since it became public knowledge that Walmart wanted to construct a new store in Blaine near the I-35W and Lexington Avenue interchange, residents have raised concerns about how this would impact the neighborhood and adjacent roads.
Walmart has yet to file an official application with the city, but it will would like an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) done so the public can see what impact developing a Walmart on the north side of Ball Road could have.
Although the city must always study how any development would impact the site and the neighborhood, an EAW is more extensive. Planning and Community Development Director Bryan Schafer said Walmart was not obligated to complete an EAW because the total square footage in Walmart’s proposal including the large store and two smaller outlot pads is estimated to not exceed 198,000 square feet and the building size threshold for a mandatory EAW is 300,000 square feet.
Nevertheless, Walmart agreed to have its consultant MFRA of Plymouth complete an EAW for the proposed store on Ball Road.
“While the site is not large enough to trigger an EAW… there are obviously going to be neighborhoods involved in this process and it would be good to create a document that talks about traffic, noise, lights, how it deals with wetlands and all those environmental impacts that come from a development of any type, in this case retail development, and try to get a document that is out in front of this,” Schafer said.
Speaking on behalf of Walmart, attorney Sue Steinwell from the Minneapolis firm of Fredrickson & Byron in Minneapolis said at the Feb. 21 Blaine City Council meeting that the EAW is being done for the reasons Schafer mentioned.
The Anoka County Highway Department widened Lexington Avenue in this area from two lanes to four lanes and added the interchange at I-35W in 1996. It completed an environmental assessment document before this was done, according to the highway department.
A Dec. 7, 2012 letter from Assistant County Engineer Andrew Witter stated that this 1996 assessment “will not provide accurate traffic data for the proposed Walmart site” because the site Walmart is looking to build on was zoned light industrial in the mid-1990s and is now zoned for planned commercial.
Further, the county highway department is concerned about how well traffic would flow under the improvements MFRA proposed after its initial Walmart on Ball Road development traffic study.
Cathy Harrison, one of the founders of Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth, said it is a good thing that this EAW will be done, but she and other residents feel the city should hire an independent consultant rather than using the report from the consultant with whom Walmart has already been working.
Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth is a nonprofit organization that opposes Walmart being developed on Ball Road because of its proximity to a neighborhood. Harrison said the group knows an engineer that could review the EAW and offer comments once the required 30-day commenting period is open.
The city of Blaine will review the EAW once MFRA completes a first draft. Walmart must automatically pay $900 to have this review done. The council made it clear that city staff should closely track its review expenses and charge Walmart for actual costs.
The council also wants to make sure that residents have the chance to give their feedback.
Although the time and format have yet to be determined, one idea was for the council to hold a workshop after the draft EAW is complete and then hold a public meeting at a separate workshop or during a regular council meeting. While all council workshops are open to the public, the council typically does not allow public comment at them unless they make it known that comments will be allowed.
Schafer said the city would send out public notices once the public meeting date is set up.
“I think this will eventually answer a lot of questions that have been floating around out there and will hopefully get rid of some of the myths and concerns that a lot of people have,” Councilmember Wes Hovland said.
Mayor Tom Ryan said the questions will be asked, so they should be ready for them.
Eric Hagen is at email@example.com