The city of Blaine has a better understanding of what issues must be reviewed whenever Walmart submits an application to construct a new store on the north side of Ball Road, just east of Lexington Avenue.
From June 24 to July 24, six government agencies and seven residents commented on an environmental assessment worksheet completed by Walmart-hired Spack Consulting.
The Blaine City Council Aug. 15 unanimously decided that a more extensive, and expensive, environmental impact statement was not necessary. But the comments in the environmental assessment worksheet and the council made it clear that a lot of work remains when the application comes forward.
Mayor Tom Ryan said the city’s site review for the nearby Fleet Farm took about six months on issues ranging from lighting to the gas station to truck traffic.
“As the mayor indicated, the heavy lifting has yet to come in terms of all the design and all things we’d need to do on a 35-acre development,” said Bryan Schafer, planning and community development director.
The number one issue from the beginning for neighbors of the potential Walmart site has been traffic.
Residents who are opposed to the development are concerned about the prospect of 6,193 vehicles coming and going, which amounts to 12,386 daily trips. They question the legitimacy of these projections and the estimate that only about 10 percent of the vehicles would turn left onto Ball Road to avoid Lexington Avenue and cut through the neighborhood.
“Common sense says (traffic) is going to get backed up,” said Holly Hollander, one of the leaders of the Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth nonprofit organization that has been opposed to this project since hearing about it in late 2011.
Hollander has made a point of saying the group is not “anti-Walmart.” The opposition is having the store across a two-lane city road from a neighborhood.
According to Hollander, Fleet Farm has already brought more traffic on North Road and 103rd Avenue, for example. There are semi trucks on Lever Street and Hollander said the neighborhood is concerned that Walmart traffic will make the roads a lot more dangerous.
The city should have asked for an environmental impact statement and have an “unbiased” party consider what could happen if one out of four vehicles turn left onto Ball Road and go into the neighborhood in case the 10 percent projection is wrong, he said.
“You have a choice tonight to ask for more study,” Hollander said. “Your citizens are asking you for more study.”
Schafer said Walmart was not obligated to have an environment assessment worksheet done because the conceptual 182,171 square-foot store and 24,900 square feet of retail, office, bank or restaurant uses is smaller than the legal threshold.
Very few environmental impact statements have been done in Blaine. They extensively study a specific concern addressed in an environmental assessment worksheet, Schafer said.
Ryan believes Northtown Mall was the last one done.
The Village shopping center just down the road from the proposed Ball Road Walmart did not need an environmental impact statement, Schafer said.
“I think in the long run we’re going to be better served by addressing those issues through our normal course process as the project moves forward, if it moves forward,” said Councilmember Wes Hovland. He and Councilmember Dick Swanson are the Ward 1 representatives for this area of Blaine.
Swanson said the city should have some “more aggressive traffic assumptions” that look into what the traffic flow could be if more vehicles than anticipated in the environmental assessment worksheet go away from Lexington Avenue out of the Walmart parking lot.
Resident Richard Feidt does not believe the traffic study accounts for weekend or holiday shopping traffic.
The city concurred in its response that “additional traffic data collection may be needed.”
City Manager Clark Arneson said once Walmart submits an application, staff would review the documents to make sure the city has the information it needs before formally accepting the application.
After this, the council would have 120 days to make a decision.
Arneson said there will be an open house for residents and Hovland asked that notification letters be sent to the neighborhood.
The Blaine Planning and Zoning Commission would also have to hold a public hearing and make a recommendation before the council votes.
What was covered
While traffic has been discussed every time the Ball Road Walmart proposal comes up, the environmental assessment worksheet looked beyond the vehicles and at issues that are not always visible to the public.
Both Cathy Harrison, one of the founders of Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said this area is a habitat for the bullsnake, which is listed as a “state species of concern,” as well as the threatened Blanding’s Turtle.
Critical Connections Ecological Services, which contributed to the study, found no evidence of these animals or any threatened or endangered creatures or plants on the site.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said a Section 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Section 401 water quality certification or waiver from the state agency may be required in order to comply with the federal Clean Water Act.
Teresa Blossom said Fleet Farm has done a pretty good job with its parking lot lighting because the lights are downcast, but was concerned about light pollution from Walmart.
The city stated that its zoning ordinance precludes off-site impacts from retail lighting.
How a Walmart on Ball Road would impact The Village shopping center, which now has a Walmart store, is outside the scope of an environmental assessment worksheet, Councilmember Dave Clark said.
Erin Hopkins along with Teresa and William Blossom raised this question.
Clark said he has talked to realtors and developers to ask for opinions on how a Walmart could impact a neighborhood and the reactions have been mixed. While some people today may oppose it, future residents may choose to be close to this shopping option, he said.
“To be candid, to go out and say this is the exact economic impact of a Walmart, you could work for 100 years and never get an answer and you could spend an enormous amount of money,” Clark said. “To me, the biggest issue with this development is whether or not the roads are going to be able to handle the traffic.”
Teresa Blossom told the council she is concerned how this development would impact her neighborhood, where her kids walk to school.
“I’d like to do everything possible to make sure that it doesn’t go in and ruin what right now is a very good neighborhood,” she said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org