Walmart is one step closer to building a new store in Blaine off I-35W and Lexington Avenue that would be open 24 hours a day.
The majority of the Blaine City Council Feb. 13 approved a preliminary plat and conditional use permit for Walmart to construct a 183,072-square-foot store on the north side of Ball Road, just east of Lexington Avenue, that would include a full offering of groceries and a pharmacy in addition to general retail goods.
Wes Hovland and Dick Swanson represent this area of Blaine as Ward One Blaine City Councilmembers. They approved the preliminary plat after the rest of the council agreed to move a portion of Ball Road further north.
However, when nobody else on the council sided with them on forbidding customer and truck traffic between midnight and 5 a.m., Hovland and Swanson voted against the conditional use permit.
“I think it’s a disservice to the neighborhood to not restrict hours of operation,” Swanson said.
Erik Miller, vice president/principal of MFRA and a Walmart consultant, said Walmart stores typically take about a year to construct. He said there are still a number of issues to address before they can break ground, however.
City Manager Clark Arneson said the conditional use permit is not official until the council finalizes the Ball Road design and approves a final plat for Walmart.
Arneson said no date is set, but it may be April until this issue comes back to the council because city staff will have to design a new road layout that includes moving a portion of Ball Road near Hupp Street north by 15 feet and closing Hupp Street’s access south of Ball Road.
The council also asked staff to consider speed humps on Marmon Street to encourage more traffic to head west on Ball Road to Lexington Avenue, and to consider making 103rd Lane a no truck route.
Cathy Harrison, head of the Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth organization comprised of residents from the adjacent neighborhood, thought Mayor Tom Ryan was going to give the residents more time to present their case. Ryan said they have been hearing comments for the past year-and-a-half.
Minnesota Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, an attorney for Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth, a resident who lives in another area of Blaine, and a person who lives near the future Walmart site were the only people that spoke before Ryan said he would take no more public comment.
When Ryan subsequently allowed a Walmart representative, but no residents, to state their opinion on the restricted business hours discussion, shouts came from the crowd. One resident said, “You represent the citizens, not the corporation.”
Marty Harstad owns the property Walmart is purchasing along with two other commercial outlots on the north side of the Ball Road and Hupp Street intersection. He told the council that he reached a purchase agreement with two of the three homeowners closest to Ball Road’s intersection with Lexington Avenue. He is willing to buy the other home if he and the homeowner can agree on a price.
The neighborhood has had problems with storm drainage, so Harstad said the city could purchase one of the residential properties from him for a pond. His son is planning to move into one of the other homes.
Residents have noted that there are six other homes on the south side of Ball Road between Lexington Avenue and the east side of Hupp Street. The design of the Hupp Street road closure south of Ball Road could impact two homes, but there was no indication from the council or Harstad that offers would be made on any of these six homes.
MFRA shared some preliminary plans with the city for a landscaped berm on the north side of Ball Road and trees on the south side of Ball Road to provide screening. Walmart will be paying for improvements to Ball Road, Lexington Avenue at Ball Road and the southbound I-35W exit ramp to Lexington Avenue.
Chamberlain proposed setting up an escrow account that the city, property owner Harstad and Walmart would contribute to in order to compensate residents at the time of a property sale if their value dropped after Walmart was constructed.
Councilmember Dave Clark does not believe this would be feasible to implement, so he proposed the city set up a fund that these residents could tap into for fences, landscaping or home improvements to reduce noise. Anoka County set up a similar fund when it reconstructed Radisson Road, he said.
The rest of the council agreed that city staff should explore the idea.
Ball Road traffic could increase from the current 3,000 vehicles a day to over 12,000 once Walmart opens, according to a traffic study done by a Walmart consultant. In response to a council inquiry, City Engineer Jean Keely said 109th Avenue between University Avenue and Jefferson Street had 13,800 vehicles per day during the most recent 2011 traffic counts. Ulysses Street next to the Walmart off Highway 65 sees about 8,000 vehicles a day.
“It’s fine and good that the tax base is being grown, but there’s a price to be paid in the neighborhood,” Harrison said.
Hours of operation
Fleet Farm is the closest big box store to this neighborhood today, and it opens no earlier than 8 a.m. and closes no later than 9 p.m. Hovland cited this as one reason Walmart should have restricted hours.
“I’m trying to preserve some of the integrity of the neighborhood as it exists today,” Hovland said.
Planning and Community Development Director Bryan Schafer said the council can, but rarely has taken action to limit business hours. It has never happened on any big box store in Blaine, but there have been restrictions placed on certain operations such as car washes when gas stations are close to homes.
Councilmember Kathy Kolb said the Fleet Farm on the other side of Lexington Avenue from this neighborhood could be open 24 hours a day, but chooses not to.
“Whatever we do has to be in close conjunction with what we’ve done in the past, so I’m just saying we have to be held to those standards or I think we are in some risk of the choices we make,” Kolb said.
The best Blaine comparison Swanson sees is Rainbow Foods off 89th Avenue near Northtown Mall.
“Down there we took a whole neighborhood out and closed a street off. Here we’re not doing anything like that, so I don’t think it’s directly comparable to any other situation,” Swanson said.
There was some debate on whether truck traffic should be allowed to drop off merchandise between midnight and 5 a.m.
Miller said there are typically 20 to 28 Walmart trucks coming to a store each week and they show up before midnight so the third shift workers can unload the merchandise and re-stock shelves. He did not know the exact schedule of drivers bringing bread, donuts, and other produce, but said he sees trucks dropping off products on his morning commute so he said they would be arriving after 5 a.m.
Ryan, a retired truck driver of 35 years, said bad weather causes delays. The conditional use permit does not allow overnight parking at the store, so they would have to find somewhere else to park and sleep. He felt it made the most sense to allow them to get in, drop off their goods and leave as soon as possible.
Clark was more concerned about a 24/7 fast food restaurant or gas station being located on future development outlots the north side of the cul-de-sac at Ball Road and Hupp Street because it is closer to the neighborhood than Walmart would be.
“This council can deal with the outlots at the time application is submitted,” City Attorney Patrick Sweeney said. “If you can differentiate two different situations, you can make a different determination.”
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org