Mark your calendars for Feb. 11. This is the day a public hearing will be held on Bentonville, Ark-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s plans to bring a fifth Neighborhood Market to town.
Wal-Mart is seeking Springfield City Council approval on a plan to rezone about 6 acres at 444 W. Grand St. and 427, 433, 441, 501, 505, 509 and 515 W. Normal St. to a general retail district with a conditional overlay district from residential high density and residential single family. On Jan. 24, the Springfield Planning and Zoning Commission recommended council’s approval with its 5-2 vote.
The issue is a hot topic around the proverbial water cooler, in part, because Price Cutter President and CEO Erick Taylor is threatening to close at least one store – the downtown Bistro Market – and it may also close its stores at Campbell Avenue and Sunshine Street and Grand Street and Kansas Expressway, according to Springfield News-Leader reporting.
Beyond the effect on a locally owned business and those it employs, there are the neighbors. Often big projects in the city draw the NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) crowd, and it is understandable. Recently, about 20 neighbors visited City Hall to voice opposition to a planned Hy-Vee grocery store on East Sunshine Street, citing impacts to property values and area water-drainage problems.
Council ultimately sided with the developers, and the governing body approved a rezoning measure with a 7-1 vote.
Based on reports of Wal-Mart’s two trips through P&Z on plans for the center-city store, I’m expecting an overflow crowd to turn out for the Feb. 11 council meeting.
Keep in mind, this isn’t just Hy-Vee; it’s Wal-Mart. People have a lot of strong feelings, rightly or wrongly, about the impact the largest retailer in the world has on communities. In fact, Councilman Scott Bailes has voiced his concerns about the drain of jobs he feels can accompany each new Walmart store.
Generally speaking, however, it is hard to know in which direction council members might be leaning.
As someone who has followed council for more than two years at Springfield Business Journal, I’ve enjoyed reporting on several complex and contentious issues such as the smoking ban and proposed changes to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. This issue has that same sort of feeling to it. I can’t wait to see what happens.