Chanhassen, MN. Wal-Mart Beaten At Planning Commission, Appeals to City Council
People in Chanhassen, Minnesota want you to believe everything you read about them in magazines
Chanhassen residents take pride in the ranking they won in 2011 from Money Magazine as the 10th best town in America to live in. In 2009, the city ranked number 2 in the same magazine. Money magazine wrote in 2011: "Chanhassen has plenty going for it -- including good jobs right within its borders (manufacturing and technology company Emerson is based here), evening diversion (the Chanhassen Dinner Theater is the nation's oldest and largest), and nature galore (34 parks, 11 lakes, and the enormous Minnesota Landscape Arboretum)." Four years ago, when Chanhassen was ranked number 2, the magazine quoted a resident as saying: "There's a genuine small town feel."
And in 2007,when Family Circle rated Chanhassen as among the top ten cities in America to raise a family, the Mayor of Chanhassen said: "It is our vision that Chanhassen is a community for life. By providing for today's needs and planning for tomorrow's, we are ensuring that Chanhassen's high quality of life is sustainable for future generations. Our residents have a strong sense of community... Those who raise families here, as well as all of our residents, benefit from our thriving downtown... "
It's no surprise then that a huge Wal-Mart superstore does not fit into the sustainable future of this community of roughly 24,000 people. Wal-Mart found that out first hand when they submitted plans to the city to build a 120,000 s.f. superstore on Highway 5 and Powers Boulevard.
According to the city staff review, "The developer is requesting a rezoning to permit commercial development on land currently guided for industrial office and community commercial use. In conjunction with the request, the applicant is requesting approval for a general concept plan for a PUD (planned unit development) for a 120,000 square -foot Walmart... The site is currently zoned Industrial Office Park (IOP). With the adoption of the 2030 Comprehensive Plan in 2008, the City Council guided the property for office industrial and commercial land use. In 2009, the city adopted the Community Commercial (CC) zoning district in order to implement the community commercial land use vision."
According to a report in the Shakopee Valley News, Wal-Mart took a "beating from many of the several hundred Chanhassen residents who overflowed the City Council chambers... If it were a prize fight, this one should have been stopped early. "
Wal-Mart emerged from the meeting without one single vote from the city's Planning Commission. Local residents said it was the largest gathering of people in the city hall in years, with two overflow rooms filled to capacity. "Honestly in my 20 years that's the most people I've seen in this room," the city's Community Development Director told the News. A citizens group formed to fight big box sprawl, Chanhassen First, collected over 1,000 signatures against the plan.
In such cases of overwhelming opposition, Wal-Mart either quietly departs, or regroups and comes up with a Plan B. In this case, it appears that Wal-Mart is going to ignore the writing on the Wal, and take its case directly to the Chanhassen City Council.
One of the members of Chanhassen First wrote the following note to Sprawl-Busters: "The Zoning Commission unanimously defeated the rezoning measure on November 1st. Wal-Mart is going to City Council on November 28th. Wal-Mart went back to Zoning Commission & City Planners with a new package. Just arrived on our city's website tonight. I'm sure it's no coincidence that this all happens on a Holiday weekend. We are determined people that are preparing for a long fight."
Based on the city staff report, after their 7-0 loss at the Planning Commission, Wal-Mart has made some changes: "Since the Planning Commission meeting, the applicant has submitted revisions to the plans. They include the following: Architecture, Landscaping signage, Parking, Relocation of the retaining wall out of the wetland buffer. In addition, Wal-Mart has agreed to finance the costs of all of the recommended off -site traffic improvements that were listed in the November 1 St staff report."
But it does not appear that Wal-Mart's cosmetic changes have impressed the Chanhassen planning staff. The staff analysis to the City Council says: "This plan has not been designed with greater preservation sensitivity than would be required for a more standard zoning district. The proposal meets the minimum requirement for preservation which is required in any district. The site plan includes extensive grading resulting in the elimination of the existing trees canopy except for the area within the protected wetland and upland preservation area. The retaining wall on the west side of the site has been moved to the minimum required setback which does not provide greater protection of the natural resources one would expect of a PUD."
At the Planning Commission hearing, a Wal-Mart spokesperson tried to sell the city on jobs and tax revenues, and added: "We know a lot of people are shopping in Chaska, Shakopee and Eden Prairie. We're proposing to keep those dollars in Chanhassen." But "those dollars" that will come into Wal-Mart cash registers are now going to other local merchants in the city, especially grocery stores, and a new Wal-Mart superstore simply represents more dollars leaving Minnesota bound for Bentonville, Arkansas.
"It's tough to imagine," the Shakopee Valley News concluded, "how anything resembling the proposal on the table this week could gain city approval."
What you can do: Readers are urged to email Chanhassen Mayor Tom Furlong and the members of the city council at: firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message:
"Dear Mayor Furlong and Councilors:
The proposal from Wal-Mart to build a 120,000 s.f. superstore in Chanhassen just not fit into your small town character. This store will be two times the size of a football field, and just is not compatible with your strategic plan for your small city. The fact is, local residents have plenty of opportunities to buy cheap Chinese products at Wal-Mart. Your area is already saturated with big box stores.
I'll bet that having a Wal-Mart supercenter is not going to enhance your quality of life, and move your higher in the rankings of Money magazine or Family Circle.
Your residents overwhelmingly opposed this plan at the Planning Commission level, and the entire Commission voted against it. The minor changes Wal-Mart has made since the Planning Commission have not really changed the plan. You can put a tuxedo on the Frankenstein monster -- but it's still a monster. The traffic alone will be a horror show.
I urge everyone on the City Council to support your Planning Commission, and vote down this over-sized, inharmonious project."