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2004-08-28
Mission, KS. New Zoning Rules Too Much for Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart is abandoning its interest in Mission, Kansas, because city officials have proposed development plans that the company cannot live with. So they will have to live without Mission. As reported earlier, the city has developed a new set of zoning rules that limit the size of stores. They are fully within their local powers to create such limits, and Wal-Mart could expect little sympathy in court if it tried to go over the heads of the city. This past Wednesday the Mission City Council unanimously approved the new regulations, and a Wal-Mart spokesperson told the Kansas City Star, “I believe the project at the Mission mall is for all intents and purposes dead." This was perhaps seen by the retailer as a dramatic form of punishment, but many area residents in Mission saw it as their first good news in months. The new rules adopted by the city require big-box stores of more than 100,000 s.f. to be three stories tall. They also regulate parking and landscaping and subject big-box stores to additional oversight by the city. The new rules cap the size of a store's footprint to 50,000 s.f. Stores in excess of 50,000 s.f. will have to be two stories tall, and larger than 100,000 s.f. will have to be three stories. This makes the use of land much more compact, and opens up land for green, or open space. The changes in Mission also require 75% of parking to be in a covered garage or on the street. In addition, parking is restricted to the rear or side of the building, not in front, and must be screened by landscaping or a masonry wall at least four feet high. The parking structures must be attractive and look more like stores, not garages. Wal-Mart indicated that a three-story building would be expensive to build and operate, and inconvenient for their customers. (They are close to opening a two-story building in Honolulu, and have built mult-story buildings elsewhere). “I think we were willing to be creative and try to find some compromise, but this was very much beyond the realm of what we are able to agree to,” the Wal-Mart spokesman said. Residents and business owners applauded the council's action. Without these news rules, Wal-Mart had planned to construct a 203,000 s.f. supercenter in Mission, and shut down its nearby store in Roeland Park, littering the landscape with another "dark store." Petitions against that store were signed by nearly 2,000 area residents. “They're not interested in anything but money, bottom line,” one local resident told the Star. “The thing could be made of gold on the outside, but inside it's still going to be a Wal-Mart.” While developers whined about the new zoning rules, the Mayor of Mission made it very clear that Mission was open for business. “Any retailer that can adhere to those ordinances and design guidelines can come to Mission,” Mayor Laura McConwell said. The Mayor explained that Wal-Mart does not fit the city's master plan, which calls for a pedestrian-friendly mix of residential and commercial developments. The new city rules only apply to the eastern side of town, along Johnson Drive, leaving the western part of the downtown open to big box development.

What you can do: The Mayor of Mission, and her staff, are to be congratulated for clarifying what kind of development the city wants, and where. Too often, city officials do nothing, and give developers a free reign to do whatever pleases them. This lack of development rules gives deep-pocketed developers the opportunity and the motive to create sprawl. Mission has stated clearly what fits into their community, what is consistent with their master plan, and what will get approved. Wal-Mart, or any retailer, can build on more than one floor. Most downtowns in America are comprised of retailers on more than one floor. Wal-Mart prefers to sprawl, because they can erect cheap, disposable buildings, like the products they will sell inside them. The Mission rules are a reminder that local communities have the power to decide the "what and where" of zoning. By stepping in to fill a void in planning, Mission has guaranteed that their vision of how the city will grow, will happen. As we have often stated: "It's not how big you grow, but how you grow big." Mission's zoning rules will be another model for communities across the nation. The new rules may be "beyond the realm" of Wal-Mart, but that is the company's problem, not the city's.










 
 
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