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2008-09-11
Salt Lake City, UT. Planning Commission Recommends No Rezoning For Wal-Mart

How sweet it is. The residents of the Sugar House community in Salt Lake City are savoring the victory today over Wal-Mart -- but the deal isn't over yet. Last night, a crowd of Wal-Mart opponents, estimated at nearly 100, broke into applause when the city's Planning Commission voted down a Wal-Mart superstore. "We're psyched," said Jill Burke, with Foothill Development Watch. "That shows you the role community councils play." On July 29, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that Wal-Mart wanted to build a 122,320 s.f. supercenter in the heart of Sugar House, but first it must tear down an empty 113,000 s.f. Kmart it bought several years ago. The city's zoning ordinance says the existing building can be remodeled -- but not torn down. Wal-Mart asked for a rezoning of the property -- and tried to sweeten the deal by offering a landscaping package, "green" features on the building, new sidewalks and other site amenities. But an advisory group to the council, known as the Sugar House Community Council, opposed the rezoning, claiming that a previous owner of the parcel on E. Parleys Way agreed to the current zoning rules in exchange for zoning flexibility on another piece of property. "I don't care what the business is, whether it's Wal-Mart or Kmart or Target or any other business. The thing I'm concerned about is that it stays with the current zoning, with the current types of businesses" in the area, a Sugar House Community Council spokesman said. Kmart, which has been at this location for 40 years, is shutting down. Wal-Mart bought the property in 2005, but less than a year later, the city voted to prohibit superstores in the 'community business' zone. The developer, CLC Associates, must seek the approval of the city's Planning Commission and City Council. Sugar House residents said current zoning was designed to keep businesses small and neighborhood-serving. "The problem with Wal-Mart is Wal-Mart is a regional store," one member of the community council said. "Adding more traffic to these intersections that barely make it would be a disaster," said a representative from the Foothill Development Watch citizen's group. During one of the Planning Commission sessions on this project, one resident asked, "Do they want to build green for the community or do they want the green for their pockets?".If they don't get the rezoning, Wal-Mart warned, they would simply move into the existing Kmart store, which they described as a "40-year-old technology." The Planning Commission had some pointed words for Wal-Mart. "They may want to think about flattening the hierarchy and listening to the members of the community," one Commissioner stated. In July, sensing that the Sugar House deal was going sour, Wal-Mart turned its public relations machine into high gear. The retailer sent out an estimated 36,000 fliers with a return postcard that residents were asked to send to The Summit Group, a local public-relations firm, voicing support for the supercenter. But a variety of neighborhood groups, including The Sugar House, East Bench, Greater Avenues, Bonneville Hills, Wasatch Hollow, Sunnyside East and Yalecrest community councils, have all voted to oppose the rezoning, which is not consistent with the East Bench master plan. On September 6, 2008, Sprawl-Busters reported that the city's planners gave a "qualified yes" to amend the neighborhood's master plan and approve a zoning change for the convenience of Wal-Mart. The city's new economic-development director argues that rezoning gives the city more control over the store design. But Robert Forbis, a planning commissioner, remains concerned about the impact Wal-Mart will have on other businesses in the Foothill corridor. "Do we really need another Wal-Mart in such close proximity to the one on 300 West? These people are not thinking long term." But last night, September 10th, the Planning Commission, on a unanimous vote, recommended a No vote for a zoning change. The Salt Lake City Tribune opined that the vote "may kill Wal-Mart's chances" for their supercenter. But the City Council gets the final vote. "This is great grassroots democracy," said Planning Commissioner Tim Chambless. "I'm just very, very pleased to see it."

What you can do: A Wal-Mart spokeswomen said she was surprised that more people supporting Wal-Mart did not come out to the hearing. "We've got our remodel plans," she told the Tribune. "If we're denied at the City Council, we'll go forward with our remodel." Wal-Mart had offered a "green" store, but Commissioners were not impressed, and did not believe a rezoning of the land was necessary. "From an environmental standpoint, I think we need to send a message to the City Council and the mayor," said Commissioner Peggy McDonough. Wal-Mart owns the property, and could remodel it, or sell it and walk away -- which is what local residents want. Many Sugar House residents dislike Wal-Mart precisely because of what it will do to the community. Sugar House, a very distinctive neighborhood in the larger city, is clearly not an appropriate place for a huge, suburban, single story building. The old Kmart was bad enough -- and ironically that store was killed off by the same company that now wants to tear the store down. The two stores are almost the same size. In 2004, Wal-Mart and Home Depot bought a bunch of Kmart properties. Home Depot has gotten into deep trouble trying to tear down Kmarts in the Los Angeles, California neighborhood of Sunland-Tujunga, and in the Miami, Florida neighborhood of Coconut Grove. Miami residents forced Home Depot to reuse the existing Kmart building, and the Los Angeles City Council has not yet approved Home Depot's plans to reuse the Kmart there. In Brattleboro, Vermont, Home Depot was forced to reuse an empty Kmart, and recently shut that store down because of lagging sales. The store now sits empty. In Salt Lake City, Wal-Mart has said, "If we are turned down on the rezone application, we certainly will operate out of the existing building. Unfortunately the existing building is a pretty aged building. Quite frankly, we would like to make a building that not only meets the needs of shoppers, but is visually appealing as well." The company told the city that if they are forced to go into the existing Kmart building, they will not spend money on landscaping or the parking lot. Readers should contact the Salt Lake City Council by calling their comment line at (801) 535-7654, or drop them an email at: Council.Comments@slcgov.com with this message: "Please support the vote of your Planning Commission to reject the Wal-Mart rezoning. Los Angeles, Miami and Brattleboro, Vermont all refused to let their empty Kmart buildings be torn down. If Wal-Mart wants this store so badly, let them move in and reuse it. It's almost the same size as the store Wal-Mart wants to build. The closure of the Kmart gives Salt Lake City an opportunity to reinvent the site for something other than suburban sprawl. That's why the land was rezoned. Changing that zoning would harm the residents who live nearby. Let Wal-Mart give the community what they want, not what someone in Arkansas thinks is best for them. The Fehr Traffic study shows that traffic congestion under current background conditions is already at a failing level. This project also is incompatible with the Downtown Rising project. Wal-Mart has had to work with reused buildings before, and they can take the existing structure and improve its appearance without having to tear it down. If you allow this rezoning, they could try to come back in the not-too-distant future and expand the store's footprint. This project adds no economic value to the city, because you already have an existing Wal-Mart nearby. Wal-Mart has no right to a rezoning. You can reject this store legally on traffic and community impact. I urge you to make them use the existing building, and support your Planning Commission."










 
 
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