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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org