There has been a lot of discussion on how an adjacent neighborhood would be affected by a new Walmart on the north side of Ball Road, east of Lexington Avenue.
Over 30 concerned residents May 9 attended a Blaine City Council workshop in which city staff presented a draft environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) completed by Walmart’s hired consultants.
What matters the most to residents is how many more cars will be driving through their neighborhood as a result of a 182,171 square-foot Walmart and 24,900 square feet of other retail or restaurant space. That was not addressed in the draft EAW and councilmembers want more information on traffic impact beyond Ball Road and Lexington Avenue.
“We all know they’ll go down Hupp Street through our neighborhood,” said Cathy Harrison, one of the founders of the Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth nonprofit organization that has fought this proposal since the public became aware of it in 2011.
An earlier traffic study proposed a roundabout at Ball Road and Hupp Street at Walmart’s main access.
About 1,000 pages of documents were summarized into a 24-page report, according to Community Development Director Bryan Schafer. Residents can visit the city’s website (www.ci.blaine.mn.us) to view the report. It investigated ecological impacts to the property and animals, water and wastewater needs, controlling erosion, hauling in fill and disposal of hazardous wastes during construction and traffic impact, for example.
The assumption based on the methods and rates in a manual published by the Institute of Traffic Engineers is that this development will bring in 6,193 vehicles a day, so total daily trips generated would be 12,386. Ball Road had an average of 3,000 vehicles traveling on it each day during a 2011 traffic count, according to City Engineer Jean Keely.
John and Vicki McCollow have lived on Ghia Street since 1998 and saw how much traffic increased when Fleet Farm was developed nearby.
They are upset about the possibility of another large development right across the street from their home.
“It’s far too close to a residential neighborhood. It’s ridiculous,” Vicki said.
The McCollows would be two of many residents who would be more restricted on how they get to Lexington Avenue than they are today. Right now, residents can take a left from Ghia or Frazier streets but may not be able to when Walmart goes in because its consultants are proposing a concrete median on Ball Road from Lexington Avenue to the new roundabout at Hupp Street.
Motorists could either turn around in the roundabout along with Walmart and restaurant traffic or head south to North Road to cut west to Lexington.
Brothers Chris and Jason Antes have lived together about halfway between Ball and North roads on Hupp Street since 2001. They anticipate most of the neighborhood will avoid the Hupp Street-Ball Road roundabout and go to North Road, and they believe a lot of people done with their shopping at Walmart will do the same if Ball Road is backing up at Lexington Avenue.
Mark Ulbricht emphasized that they are not “anti-Walmart.” He would rather see an office building that does not generate as much traffic.
“We’d rather not have a 24/7 operation across the street no matter what it is. It’s a quiet neighborhood right now,” said Amy Ulbricht. They have lived three homes down on Hupp Street from Ball Road since 2008.
Councilmember Dave Clark questioned how the Ball Road median would affect the fire department’s response from Fire Station No. 4 at 10290 Lever St. to the neighborhood south of Ball Road. SBM Chief Operations Officer Garrett Parten told ABC Newspapers, “It’s not that much of a concern for us,” because Ball Road curves far to the north as it approaches Lever Street, so North Road would be the shortest route from that station to the neighborhood.
Councilmember Dick Swanson asked city staff if it could find comparable examples of major developments next to neighborhoods. He also asked for staff to estimate how much Sunset Avenue traffic could increase, which is another major north-south road east of this site.
Walmart will have to bring in about 150,000 cubic yards of fill. Clark wants examples of how much fill other developments had to haul from off-site.
A contractor at North Pine Aggregate in Forest Lake told ABC Newspapers that a semi can typically carry 17.5 cubic yards of fill, so 8,572 trucks may need to bring fill to this site. Another 60,000 cubic yards of fill also needs to be moved on-site.
This activity means more noise, traffic and dust, and the city would need to put provisions in place to minimize impact as much as possible. Ball Road would be reconstructed only after these heavy trucks are done coming through.
Although Harrison thinks an EAW is a good idea, she and the McCollows would have preferred it be completed by consultants not hired by Walmart.
Other agencies like the county highway department, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Rice Creek Watershed District and the city of Blaine itself will have more chances to review and comment on the EAW and multiple permits will be necessary before any groundbreaking ceremony.
Harrison previously said the group knows an engineer that could review the EAW and offer comments once the required 30-day commenting period is open. Schafer told the council this one-month review by the public and other government agencies could kick off in late June, assuming the council feels it is ready to be shared after its June 6 meeting.
All questions raised by others regarding the EAW must be addressed. If the council feels no further study is needed for the EAW, it can accept its findings at the Aug. 1 council meeting, but more study on traffic impact could still come after that, Schafer said.
If there are no delays and Walmart is able to submit its application in early August, the planning commission could have a public hearing as soon as Sept. 10, the council could approve the development Oct. 3 and ground could break in November.
Schafer emphasized this estimated timeline was provided because people have been asking for it and it could change. The council asked for an open house at some point so residents could see the site plan and traffic plan and ask questions in an informal setting.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org