Walmart’s impact on Ball Road has been the No. 1 concern of a Blaine neighborhood. After three hours of presentations and testimony Jan. 16, the Blaine City Council said more research needs to be done on this and many other issues residents have raised.
The 183,072 square-foot store that Walmart wants to develop on a 39.13-acre site on the southeast corner of I-35W and Lexington Avenue and on the north side of Ball Road was targeted for a big commercial development like this, Councilmember Mike Bourke said. He thinks the neighborhood would not be as opposed if transportation was done properly.
“I personally am going to look for leadership from you to develop a way to move that transportation and protect the citizens in that area,” Bourke said to the Walmart development team gathered in the front row.
Neighborhood resident Holly Hollander said the conditional use permit states that the city must “protect the best interests of the surrounding area or community as a whole.”
“The details of this project show very little interest in protecting the integrity of our neighborhoods,” Hollander said.
Martin Harstad’s father bought three parcels in 1984 that all have a role in this discussion. One parcel became the 107-lot Belmont Acres housing development in 1985. Another parcel had three homes developed on the southeast corner of Ball Road and Lexington Avenue in the late 1990s.
Walmart is the current suitor for the third parcel, which concerns the people who live in Belmont Acres and the three homes, but Harstad said a number of different developers have been interested.
In 1999, Harstad was “in deep negotiations” with Walmart and Kohls to build on his site. Target and Cub Foods were a couple of the anchor tenants planned for The Village of Blaine commercial center on the opposite side of I-35W.
When Target in The Village failed to materialize, Walmart stepped in and agreed not to sell groceries to not compete with Cub Foods. This non-compete clause is why Walmart now wants to move to Harstad’s Ball Road site and close the store at The Village, according to Walmart spokespersons.
Target and Kohl’s subsequently developed in Lino Lakes and Harstad was left paying property taxes every year on an undeveloped commercial site. He paid $48,440 last year in property taxes, for instance.
Between 2004 and 2008, Menards, Best Buy and Lowe’s approached Harstad before building along Highway 65 in Blaine. A hotel developer was interested.
Even Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf talked to Harstad, but not for the stadium, which was proposed at the corner of Lexington and 109th avenues at one time. Harstad never heard Wilf’s plans for the site other than some type of commercial development.
Walmart and Harstad signed a purchase agreement July 26, 2010, according to Erik Miller, who is the vice president of MFRA that consults Walmart on new store developments.
“It’s been a 30-year history with my family and this piece of property,” Harstad said.
Ball Road has seen increased traffic since Fleet Farm developed on the west side of Lexington Avenue, residents say, but it still only has about 3,000 vehicles a day.
The addition of Walmart could result in 9,242 more vehicles traveling the corridor every day for a total exceeding 12,000. Another 3,000 vehicles could be added on top of that once adjacent outlots that Harstad still owns gets more retail and restaurant development, an Environmental Assessment Worksheet estimated.
This would make Ball Road one of the busiest Blaine city streets, not factoring in Highway 65 or county roads. For instance, 99th Avenue west of Highway 65 sees about 9,000 vehicles a day. Davenport Street tucked between the National Sports Center and an abundance of retail development has 9,400 vehicles a day south of 105th Avenue and 8,200 vehicles a day north of there to 109th Avenue.
Walmart-hired Spack Consulting completed the traffic study and then received input from the city and Anoka County Highway Department before submitting road improvement proposals.
Ball Road will largely remain a two-lane road, but have a median from Lexington Avenue to Hupp Street, which would reduce access at Frazier and Ghia streets to a right-in, right-out. A new roundabout at Hupp Street would serve as the main access to and from Walmart.
An additional westbound to northbound right-turn lane would be added at the Ball Road and Lexington Avenue intersection. A second left-turn lane from Lexington Avenue to Hupp Street would necessitate a second through lane on Ball Road, which would quickly need to merge into one eastbound lane.
“Two lanes going down to one lane at Ball Road is an unacceptable access road,” Hollander said. “What’s going to happen when you have a two-lane road, cars flying trying to go down into one lane and there’s an accident? I beg of you to consider that.”
The issues also go beyond Ball Road. Hollander said that 103rd Avenue and Lever Street became “a race course” when Fleet Farm went in and it would only get worse with Walmart.
Councilmember Dick Swanson thinks the city should consider making 103rd Lane a no truck route. He shares the neighborhood’s concern that Hupp Street south of Ball Road may become a popular route, according to Swanson.
Residents are concerned about the safety of people walking and biking in the neighborhood, especially with there being an elementary school and high school nearby. Swanson said the city should consider trail development beyond on Walmart’s side of Ball Road.
Mayor Tom Ryan said neighbors always bring up concern of property values when a big development comes in, but it is difficult to prove the effect.
“If you look since 2008, property values are down 10 to 40 percent (citywide). My house is down about 35 percent,” Ryan said.
Theresa and Matthew Alberts have lived on Ball Road since the summer of 2007, according to county property tax records. Theresa told the council that they tried to sell their home recently, but an offer was pulled when the buyer discovered Walmart wanted to build across the street.
Dave Roth of Re/Max wrote in a letter shared with the city that there were buyers interested in a few homes in the vicinity of I-35W and Lexington Avenue, but became disinterested when hearing about the potential Walmart.
“In my professional opinion, home values have already dropped due to the proposal,” Roth said. “During construction, it will be near impossible to sell in the nearby neighborhoods. Once the building is built, the nearby neighborhood will lose value if not significant value. Buyers would not want to live nearby a 24-hour operation.”
Swanson, Councilmember Wes Hovland and Ryan said the city should consider the future of the three homes on the south side of Ball Road near Lexington Avenue, but Swanson would not want the city to use eminent domain.
Resident Jason Orcutt questioned whether the city could even use eminent domain on these three homes considering the road work would be taking place because of a private development.
Hovland told the Walmart development team that the neighborhood is frustrated because they are seeing a big box store come in that may meet the bare minimum requirements, but they feel the city should have met with the residents earlier to talk about ways of mitigating impact.
“This directly affects the quality of life that these people bought into for so many years,” Hovland said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org