Commission has no recommendation on Walmart permit

As the Blaine City Council listens to residents’ opinions at public hearings next month about a proposed Walmart along Ball Road, it will have no recommendation from the Blaine Planning Commission beyond the fact that the preliminary plat meets all city code requirements.

Walmart cannot sell a full range of groceries at this location in the Village of Blaine Shopping Center because of an agreement it signed when the store developed. Cub Foods is located nearby. Walmart would like to relocate from this store to a site on the north side of Ball Road, east of Lexington Avenue. File photo by Eric Hagen

Walmart cannot sell a full range of groceries at this location in the Village of Blaine Shopping Center because of an agreement it signed when the store developed. Cub Foods is located nearby. Walmart would like to relocate from this store to a site on the north side of Ball Road, east of Lexington Avenue. File photo by Eric Hagen

Although there is development in the area such as The Village of Blaine Shopping Center and a Fleet Farm, a neighborhood does not want to see this 183,072 square-foot big box store across the street.

Cathy Harrison is head of the Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth non-profit organization that comprises residents who have opposed this project for the past couple of years since the rumor of it was confirmed.

“It’s not about Walmart,” Harrison said. “It’s the size of the site and the 24 hours (a day), seven days a week and the economic impacts to our families.”

Since Walmart filed a development application with the city Nov. 8, the city hosted an open house Dec. 3 and the planning commission held a public hearing on the site plan and conditional use permit Dec. 10.

The ball is now in the council’s court. It was already scheduled to consider the preliminary plat and conditional use permit at its Jan. 16 meeting, but after residents requested it, the city scheduled a 6:30 p.m. Jan. 7, 2014 neighborhood meeting at city hall to discuss concerns and potential solutions.

“In a perfect world we’d like to have it stay the same, but the point we’re at now, we have to look for what the compromise and middle ground is,” said Jason Orcutt.

Orcutt lives on Ghia Street in the neighborhood south of the site, so he has spoken at different Blaine meetings as a concerned citizen.

Orcutt’s job as a project manager with the Anoka County Highway Department gives him insight on traffic issues and he said the approximately 14,000 vehicle trips a day Walmart is projecting for Ball Road would make it a failing road according to the state traffic engineering handbook.

Orcutt believes a landscaped berm should be put in on the south side of Ball Road from Lexington Avenue to Hupp Street to screen the neighborhood to the south. This would result in the closure of direct accesses to Ball Road at Frazier, Ghia and Hupp streets.

A proposed median would make it impossible for these residents to turn left onto Ball Road. To get to Lexington Avenue, they would need to head south through the neighborhood to North Road or turn around in the cul-de-sac at Hupp Street where all the Walmart customers would be entering and exiting the site. Truck traffic from Lexington Avenue could also be driving through to get to a secondary access further east on Ball Road.

Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth is also proposing that semi trucks should not be able to drive on North Road and Lever Street.

“This failing condition will not only affect homeowners, it will affect businesses, so they have a vested interest in this as well,” Orcutt said. “Let the neighborhood be the neighborhood and the business be the business and we’ll move on with our lives.”

Walmart would like to relocate from The Village of Blaine Shopping Center to a new 27.18-acre site on the north side of Ball Road near the I-35W and Lexington Avenue interchange. The preliminary plat also includes two outlots totaling 11.95 acres that Marty Harstad would not be selling to Walmart and would later be replatted for future retail lots.

Walmart consultant Erik Miller, vice president/principal of MFRA, said the agreement Walmart signed in The Village of Blaine does not allow it to sell groceries due to the neighboring Cub Foods.

Walmart’s recent developments in the area, such as Blaine off Highway 65 and Andover off Bunker Lake Boulevard have included a full grocery offering and the Bentonville, Ark., based company would like to extend this to the east side of Blaine just off a national interstate and major county road.

Residents were unmoved by Walmart’s desire to find a new home where it could expand its reach into the grocery market.

As she chocked back tears, Desiree Larson recalled taking her telescope to a place called “garbage hill” because it was the best place to see the stars. The Village Shopping Center is now there. She referred to Walmart representatives as “the suits” and noted these people are paid to research issues and think up arguments all day unlike the residents who do not have the time or expertise to counter-argue.

“Just because you can mitigate something doesn’t mean it’s right,” Larson said. “Just because something is legal or meets every ordinance doesn’t mean we should do it. It doesn’t mean Blaine citizens want it or it’s right for the community.”

Alluding to legal ramifications for denying something that meets all the city’s rules, planning commission chairperson Joe Oulette responded, “If we don’t recommend something where it meets all the goals, we’ll see a different set of suits come in.”

Nobody from Walmart spoke during the planning commission’s Dec. 10 public hearing.

Oulette said Walmart meets the requirements to receive preliminary plat approval, so the commission unanimously approved it.

After a couple of commissioners said they are opposed to the project in principal, Oulette said they could choose to not forward any recommendation to the council regarding the conditional use permit. The biggest concern of the neighborhood is traffic and Oulette said this is something the council always addresses.

Community Development Director Bryan Schafer said it is rare for the planning commission to not make a recommendation, but it has happened.

Monica Radtke, planning commissioner, said Walmart should have had more foresight when signing the agreement that forbids it from selling groceries in its location in The Village.

“To move just for that reason isn’t good enough,” she said.

Planning commissioner Sue Lahti said she understands Walmart meets the requirements for the preliminary plat, but she thinks the impact to the neighborhood will be too great unless Walmart purchases the three homes right along Ball Road and constructs the landscaped berm, which are just a couple of things Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth is requesting.

“They have armies of lawyers to help them review contracts and deeds,” she said. “I don’t feel it’s appropriate that they should just be able to say we’re pulling out of here and are going to go disrupt this other neighborhood.”

Lahti drew applause from the neighborhood when she closed by saying, “We have so many Walmarts in Blaine already. What’s a few extra miles?”

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

  • Rachel Kahler

    While Walmart may technically meet the requirements for the plat, it seems to me that the city should be thinking smarter. First, what’s to be done about a newly empty giant building? Are there plans for it? Or will it be an eyesore until someone eventually occupies it (after probably breaking it into several smaller spaces)? Second, I see little reason to pave another location when Walmart already has a presence in the area (with reasonable access, I might add). Until there is a long range plan for the area, Walmart can stick to it’s originally paved lot. This plan and the approval seem short sighted. Perhaps I’m missing nuances not reported here, but simply saying ok to a big box store that wants a slightly better location than one it already has, you’re looking to create instability for neighborhoods involved and traffic planning. I believe that the area will be soon enough fully developed (regardless of the wishes of the local inhabitants). However, is it smart to develop it prematurely? Walmart isn’t exactly a draw for the other businesses in that area. It’s probably the opposite. Would it be wise to give Walmart better access to customers, thereby bypassing a much larger commercial development nearby? In the end, a short term disadvantage for Walmart might be a long term advantage for the business community as a whole in that area. Residents DO need to get used to the fact that it will likely all be developed in some way, though. But I agree that Walmart hopscotching to a better spot is not in the best interest of the area.

    • lavndrblue

      We understand that something will be built on the property!!! We always have. Our point is that a 24 hour 7 day a week retail store is not compatible with our neighborhoods. Nor has Wal-Mart or the City Engineers proposed anything in their plans to protect the neighborhood that lines Ball Road! Nor it seems do they intend to. Have you driven down Ball Road? If so, tell me how the homes that actually sit on Ball Road are to get in and out of their driveways safely with the amount of traffic that is expected to want access to Wal-Mart?
      We have tried to work with the City for over two years to only be told that ‘their hands are tied’, that ‘they will be sued’ if they don’t approve the project, that the projuect was all “a myth”. All the time City Staff was working with Wal-mart and the developer.
      For over two years they could have engaged our group in real discussions and taken our ideas and used some of them in their planning…………but no! They wait until a few weeks before the City Council is to vote on the Conditional Use Permit to put together what THEY assumed is what we’ve been asking for. Non are acceptable.
      I’m sorry but your assumption that we don’t understand that something will be built is totally off base and incorrect!!!

      • Rachel Kahler

        Focusing on two sentences that might upset you within an entire paragraph that supports your view is counter productive. Focus on the constructive, not the perceived offense. You’re not the only one that believes that moving Walmart is misguided, and many of your supporters probably don’t even live in your neighborhood. Reach out to them.

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