by Mark Carter
Posted 7/17/2013 10:40 am
Updated 5 months ago
On Aug. 13, Russellville voters will get to decide if a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market is built in their hometown.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville would like to build a 42,000-SF Neighborhood Market at West Main and South Vancouver streets, and is even under contract to purchase 8.82 acres to do so. In April, the Russellville City Council approved an ordinance to rezone the property as a planned unit development (PUD) to accommodate concerns over the site's potential uses.
More: View the full ordinance here (PDF).
But about a month after the city council voted 6-2 for the zoning ordinance, a group called Skyline Joint Venture LLC filed documents with the Arkansas Ethics Commission creating a ballot question committee and challenging the measure. It collected more than 800 signatures and successfully forced the referendum.
Increased traffic and the store's proximity to a residential neighborhood have been cited as concerns. But there might be another issue at play for the opposition group: competition. State records show that Skyline Joint Venture owns a shopping center about a mile west of the proposed Wal-Mart site that includes a Cash Saver grocery store, which would face new competition should the Neighborhood Market open.
Another would-be competitor is Kroger, which operates a store several blocks east of the site on West Main. Wal-Mart already operates a Supercenter on the other side of town.
Russellville attorney Richard Peel is listed as a member of Skyline Joint Venture and has signed its financial reports for the Ethics Commission each month since the group was formed. He declined to comment when contacted for this story.
Last week, a group calling itself the Committee for Community Progress, backed by the Russellville Area Chamber of Commerce, announced its intent to campaign in favor of the Neighborhood Market.
"Encouraging development in Russellville is our goal, and if the decision of the city council to continue to develop West Main Street is overturned, it will send the wrong signal to other businesses who are considering Russellville as a potential location," Chamber president Jeff Pipkin told Arkansas Business.
Pipkin said that other national retailers have shown interest in Russellville and are waiting to see how the Wal-Mart referendum plays out. He declined to name the retailers.
"Every company has their own real estate selection process, but we have heard from other national retailers interested in our community that have expressed concerns about a select few in Russellville fighting to stop the addition of something as simple as a new grocery store," he said.
The land in question is a former family farm off West Main that has never been developed. South Vancouver was extended south of Main and through the 9-acre property in 2004. Currently, a chiropractor's office and a real-estate office front Main Street adjoining the property, and Wal-Mart is under contract to purchase them as well as a couple of houses just off Main that would have to be razed.
The total purchase price for the proposed site is undisclosed.
Little Rock attorney Stephen Giles, Wal-Mart's land-use counsel for the project, said the company has long coveted a spot on the growing west side of town. Wal-Mart first filed an application for rezoning the site in 2011. He said 55 percent of the completed site would be landscaping, grass and berm, and that 167 new trees would be planted to help buffer the store from houses to the south.
The back of the building would be more than 500 feet from the nearest residence, Giles said.
Wal-Mart has agreed to pay for the installation of a traffic signal at West Main and Vancouver if the ordinance is upheld and the signal deemed necessary by an Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department study. Wal-Mart also agreed to contribute $125,000 for surrounding infrastructure development.
Currently, the nearest traffic signal is at Main and Phoenix, six blocks to the east. The Phoenix light is the only one on West Main between El Paso Avenue on the edge of downtown and Skyline Drive on the city's far west side.
Giles said if the zoning ordinance is upheld by voters, Wal-Mart wouldn’t begin applying for the permits necessary to proceed until all legal appeal periods have expired. He also couldn't rule out the possibility of a lawsuit if the ordinance is upheld.