Walmart requests deferral on rezoning to redesign site plan

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Walmart public affairs and government relations representative Glen Wilkins speaks to the crowd attending Tuesday’s question-and-answer session about plans for a Walmart Supercenter on Old Pendergrass Road off Damon Gause Parkway.

By KATIE JUSTICE, kjustice@clickthepaper.com

Tuesday night’s question-and-answer session over a proposed Walmart in Jefferson was not a quiet one. More than 200 citizens came to learn about the proposal and speak their minds, with lines forming to ask questions of the Walmart and Wolverton and Associates representatives.

The biggest issue of the night was the proposed location of the new supercenter. While many citizens admitted they weren’t opposed to a Walmart coming to the community, they were in disagreement with the location at Old Pendergrass Road and the Highway 129 Jefferson Bypass.

On Friday, Jefferson City Manager John Ward was contacted by Amy Hillman, the attorney representing Walmart, requesting a delay.

“Based on the feedback received from staff and constructive input received at the community meeting, I am requesting that the application be tabled for 60 days to allow my client the opportunity to investigate site design alternatives,” said Hillman.

Ward said the 60-day deferral is requested “in order to redesign their site plan before they get locked in by going before the planning commission. The deferral is the applicant’s option and lets them withdraw without prejudice, per our code.”

Ward said there would be a charge for a new submittal and the process of advertising and public meetings would begin again, if the rezoning is pursued.

The rezoning application was to have been presented to the Jefferson-Talmo Planning Commission at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 15, but that meeting will be cancelled since the rezoning was the  only item of business on the agenda.

The application was then to have been discussed at the Jefferson City Council work session on Monday, Feb. 11, with the council expected to take a vote on Feb. 25. The deferral of the measure will move back the timetable.

Construction had been projected to begin by October.

At the community meeting, residents of nearby neighborhoods questioned the noise and light that would be brought by a store open 24 hours a day.

“I moved [here] 18 years ago to have a nice and quiet neighborhood, and now I guess I have to move because Walmart is coming,” said one woman, who lives across from the proposed store location.

Parents questioned the proximity to the four Jefferson City Schools, fearing the safety of their children with increased traffic. One mom directly addressed Walmart public affairs and government relations representative Glen Wilkins to ask if Walmart had ever considered speaking with area schools, PTOs and even homeowners associations. Wilkins responded that Walmart had not, but said he was open to meeting with any of the groups.

The current design, however, the architect is open for ideas to give the store a more regional look.

Citizen Rock Feeman referenced the 2008-2028 City of Jefferson Comprehensive Plan. According to the plan, under I-85 commercial area there is a statement that reads “Big Box’ retail should be limited to these areas…”

“We have to follow the comprehensive plan. That’s our roadmap. That’s our Bible for growth,” said Feeman.

“Walmart is a great American company, but Jefferson is a great American city,” said Ken Nations, who continued on to follow Feeman’s lead by saying, “There’s a plan people kind of know about, and that’s where we’re coming from.”

Another topic on controversy was addressed when one citizen asked if Walmart had an alternative location if the rezoning application was denied.

“I don’t have a plan B. This is it,” said Wilkins.

Citizens look at the current proposal for the store but the majority said while they may welcome Walmart, a location closer to Interstate 85 was preferred.

“Let’s say that your plan is denied. You say there is no plan B. I find it hard to believe that a corporation as big as Walmart doesn’t have a plan B. So is that it-if this is denied, [Walmart] won’t come to Jefferson?” asked Jefferson High School Principal Dr. Kevin Smith, who admitted that “we all shop at Walmart, and appreciate the potential amount of revenue that Walmart brings.”

“We’re committed to this site. It’s not that we didn’t think about it,” answered Wilkins, who said he wasn’t going to speculate as to whether a denial on zoning would result in Walmart ending its pursuits in Jefferson.

There were mixed opinions overall. Some citizens admitted to being entirely opposed to a building the store in Jefferson.

“Jefferson is a small town and has a small-town community feeling. If I wanted to go to Walmart, I’d drive,” said one man, who also questioned the potential of the store leading to a loss of small local businesses.

When one man addressed the crowd and asked for a show of hands of the people who were in favor of the store at the current proposed location, about 10 hands were raised, proving not everyone was against the idea.

However, when another man asked who would be willing to drive the extra five minutes to visit the store if it were closer to Interstate 85, every hand appeared to be raised.

“The city was approached by Walmart, not the other way around,” said Jefferson City Manager John Ward. The location was chosen by Walmart not the City of Jefferson. Additionally, according to Ward, there are no incentives currently involved with the application.

“There has not been a request or an offer,” said Ward. “The final ‘say-so’ is the Jefferson City Council.”

The proposed store will be a 152,000-square-foot supercenter with a garden center and tire and lube express. According to Wilkins, the store will create about 250 new jobs, with the majority being full-time positions; however, both full- and part-time employees will be eligible for a comprehensive benefits package.

At peak traffic times, between 350-400 cars per hour will be coming and going from the supercenter. Wilkins also said six Walmart tractor-trailers will be in and out of the store in a 24-hour period, but that doesn’t include outside vending trucks.