Residents turn out to oppose Wal-Mart Express at Baldwin City Council meeting
Although there was nothing related to a possible Wal-Mart Express on the agenda, the Baldwin City Council got a taste of what residents think about the proposed store during the public comment period of Monday’s council meeting.
Planning commission options
Baldwin City Administrator Chris Lowe said the Baldwin City Planning Commission will have four options tonight when it considers Wal-Mart Inc.'s development proposal for a Wal-Mart Express at 210 Ames Street.
The planning commission can:
• Approve the plan as presented. That decision would be the final action on the development plan and no further Baldwin City Council approval would be needed.
• Deny the plan.
• Request Wal-Mart modify the plan out of such concerns as better screening, lighting or traffic control.
• Request more time to study the proposal with a decision to be made at a future meeting.
Should the development plan be denied, Wal-Mart could appeal that decision to the city council. Wal-Mart could also appeal the need to make further modifications to the development plan directly to the city council or bring back a plan with the requested changes to the planning commission for approval.
In its report on the development plan, city staff cautions planning commissioners any decision must be based on the city’s zoning regulations. The text of the message reads: “The action before the Planning commission is strictly a ministerial act and to enforce the development plan review process as described in the Baldwin City Zoning Regulations. In other words, this is not a policy decision but a decision based on the facts related to the compliance of the development plan with the city’s regulations.”
Lowe said any decision not based on the plan’s compliance with the city’s regulations would invite a lawsuit, such as the one brought against the city of Lawrence after a building permit was denied for a west Lawrence Wal-Mart store.
Thirteen speakers went to the podium to go on record in opposition to the proposal during public comment time near the end of the meeting. The speakers were among the standing-room only audience of 100 residents who attended the meeting and responded with applause at the end of each speaker’s remarks.
The fact that the development plan for the Wal-Mart Express is on tonight’s Baldwin City Planning Commission’s agenda constrained what council members could say in reply to the comments, Mayor Marilyn Pearse said. Nonetheless, she thanked the audience for their attendance at the meeting and interest in the issue.
It was announced last week that Wal-Mart Inc. had submitted a development plan to build an 11,825-square-foot Wal-Mart Express in an empty lot north of U.S. Highway 56 between Washington Street and Eisenhower Road. The store would carry groceries with dairy, produce and meat sections. It would have a pharmacy and fuel island with three pumps.
The planning commission will consider the development plan at 7 p.m. tonight at the Baldwin City American Legion Post, 803 High St.
In his remarks Monday, Baldwin City attorney Blake Glover said the large turnout represented but a small fraction of city residents against the Wal-Mart Express. He presented the council with 953 signatures on a petition opposing the store collected since July 3. That was more than the number of residents who voted in the Baldwin City’s last mayoral race, he said.
The most often expressed concern Monday was that the store would eventually close many of Baldwin City’s hometown businesses. Warning of the detrimental effect of the Wal-Mart business model on small-town business was Baker University business and management professor Martha Harris, who said Baldwin City retailers would be unable to compete with the low-cost products offered by the corporate giant.
TerriLois Gregory said that would cost Baldwin City 42 jobs, more than offsetting the 30 new jobs Wal-Mart says the new store will bring to the community. Also lost would be the support those retailers extend to local charities like the community fund and the community food pantry, the city’s churches, school organizations and teams and a wide range of Baldwin City non-profits and community events.
It wasn’t fair to say Wal-Mart isn’t a good corporate citizen, said Baldwin City truck driver Tim Donohue said. He has seen the many benefit the corporation has brought to its home of Bentonville, Arkansas, during his regular trips to that state, he said.
“Wal-Mart does support the community, just not here,” he said.
Those living near the proposed store site raised concerns about noise, lighting and increased traffic. Gabriel Dorsey, 117 Eisenhower Rd., said he was concerned about the increase of traffic on the narrow Eisenhower Road and Washington Street. He joined others in expressing concern about the safety of school children crossing U.S. 56 on the way to and from the junior high and high school campus three blocks to the north of the proposed store on Eisenhower Road.
Glover suggested the city's comprehensive plan provided the justification to reject the Wal-Mart proposal. There is no mention in that 2008 document of big-box stores, but there are repeated references to maintaining Baldwin City’s “small town” atmosphere and the need to maintain the downtown as the city’s retail center, he said.
“If Wal-Mart comes to town, that small-town spirit and downtown are in very real danger,” he said.
Many in attendance vowed to return to tonight’s planning commission meeting. With one audience member urging Monday’s to “bring a friend” and an actual decision on the agenda, it promises to be even more crowded.