Wal-Mart opponents look to apply lessons from store proposal
The “No Wal-Mart in Baldwin” signs are gone and so is a proposal to build a Wal-Mart Express on U.S. Highway 56, but an opponent to the store said those against the proposal remain vigilant.
Jennifer Ray, who helped launch a Facebook page to rally support against the Wal-Mart Express and was one of the organizers of a meeting last month to plan opposition measures against the proposal, said she and others who joined her were happy to see the original Wal-Mart Inc. proposal go away but remained leery of company plans for the community.
Ray noted Wal-Mart spokesperson Delia Garcia’s statement of Aug. 1 announcing the retail giant would not pursue a Wal-Mart Express on a lot northeast of the U.S. 56/Eisenhower Avenue intersection left room for the company looking for another location in Baldwin City.
“We’re happy they won’t be there,” Ray said. “For the majority of the opposition, that was the worst possible spot for retail development. We’re keeping our eyes open on what could potentially come down the road.”
The community learned of the proposed Wal-Mart Express only after the Baldwin City Planning Commission and Baldwin City Council approved in June a re-plat of an undeveloped lot between Eisenhower Avenue and Washington Street. The awareness came only days before the site development plan for the store went before the planning commission for final approval. Wal-Mart walked away from the location after the planning commission stipulated a traffic study be submitted with the site plan, which the Kansas Department of Transportation subsequently agreed was necessary.
There was no chance in the immediate future that any major development proposal would make it as far as the Wal-Mart plan without greater scrutiny from the public, Ray said.
“It definitely opened the community’s eyes,” she said. “There was a group of us who realized we weren’t paying enough attention. I’m now attending all City Council meetings.”
During public comments at the planning commission's July 8 consideration of the site development plan and a Baldwin City Council meeting a day earlier, opponents claimed the Wal-Mart proposal for the 12,000-square-foot store, which would have had a pharmacy, gas pumps and grocery, was at odds with the city’s comprehensive plan. Those comments prompted the planning commission to stipulate the City Council consider the Wal-Mart Express site plan for compatibility with the city’s comprehensive plan.
Ray said Monday she and other opponents were now considering how the city’s comprehensive plan and planning and zoning regulations can be amended to offer the city more protection against some kinds of development. It is an effort that would include those supportive of Wal-Mart locating in Baldwin City, she said.
Nothing yet has been developed, but there was agreement sprawl development should be prevented, Ray said.
“We have people going through the comp plan and zoning codes to see how we can better protect Baldwin City and the vision of what this city can be,” she said. “Nobody wants Baldwin City to become another Gardner, where you have an old downtown and a new downtown. We want to keep Baldwin City an active and still unified community.”
Ray said she also would like the city to take steps to encourage more community involvement in development decisions beyond the required notification of immediate neighbors of proposed zoning changes.
“With major development, the majority should be heard and not just the loudest voice,” she said. “With this proposal, we were the loudest voice. But there should be a process where everybody has a voice and can speak without feeling like everybody hates them.” There are procedures in place to amend city zoning and development codes and the city’s comprehensive plan, said Collin Bielser, Baldwin City community development director. The planning commission considers amendments to planning regulations after first publishing notice of a public hearing on the proposed changes. The planning commission can then reject the change or recommend the City Council approve it. The council must then approve, reject by two-thirds majority or send back to the planning commission for further consideration.
Making amendments to the comprehensive plan is a more elaborate process that involves sessions with residents to arrival at a community consensus, Bielser said. A consultant often leads those sessions and writes the recommendations for the planning commission’s consideration, he said. The planning commission and City Council’s consideration of comprehensive plan changes also require public hearings, he said.