Walmart strikes out on Salt Lake City east-bench pitch
Walmart's latest whiff at rezoning Salt Lake City's east side for a big box sends the retail behemoth back to its Bentonville, Ark., bench.
But it won't be extra innings before the neighborhood knows what will become of the mothballed and maligned Kmart building at 2705 E. Parleys Way. Walmart says it will reopen the four-decade-old store next summer.
The City Council, which had telegraphed the pitch, delivered a 6-1 punch out Tuesday, declining Walmart's third plea since 2008 to rezone the property and amend the area's master plan.
The politicians applauded the civility of the rezone debate and even Walmart's team but said the objections of the residents living closest to the property could not be ignored.
"They are clear with what they want," said Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love. "I believe our zoning has to mean something."
Critics said granting a permanent "upzone" for the property already deemed nonconforming would be a mistake.
Councilman J.T. Martin called the lopsided vote a "watershed decision" that has robbed him of sleep. He said he takes seriously the Planning Commission's previous rejections and the many calls for a walkable commercial district that blends.
"People think the east side is built out that we're done," he said. "It's far from it. We're having quite a renaissance. So I look at that."
Martin scoffed at Walmart's claims that it cannot pull off the desired upgrades to drainage, lighting and landscaping without a rezone. "That's not true," he said. "That's a choice that the petitioner will need to make."
The company had long-pledged to erect a smaller, 95,000-square-foot store with a rezone. Since the summer, Walmart maintained it would simply renovate the empty 120,000-square-foot shell if it lost at City Hall.
"For the first time in 40 years, the Salt Lake City Council had an opportunity tonight to impose a higher standard for development of the property at 2705 East Parleys Way. Instead," said Walmart spokeswoman Delia Garcia, "they chose the status quo. We are disappointed that, as a result of the council's decision, Walmart won't be able to give the community what it deserves-a brand new, smaller, and more energy efficient store with landscaping and shaded pedestrian walkways. Still, we are excited to have the opportunity to serve our customers in the east bench and this is the most important thing."
Garcia says the remodeling bid could go out as soon as Friday.
The prospect of a newer, "greener" Walmart versus an older, dumpier version swayed plenty to support the rezone, including a majority of the 345 commenters on the city's online forum. But Love, Martin and Councilman Soren Simonsen noted the bulk of those in support live five to 10 minutes away, while most rezone opponents are direct Parleys Way neighbors.
Simonsen suggested the property still could be a regional draw, but said it should take a clue from City Creek Center. "Clearly we can have regional, walkable shopping centers," he said. "And what Walmart is proposing is not that."
The lone dissenter, Councilman Carlton Christensen, says he was disappointed in the process. He hoped to broker a development agreement under a rezone that would have policed building size, light pollution and a potential gas station. "Part of me really wishes that they dress up a mediocre store and it does really well and it's really busy."
Mayor Ralph Becker said he purposely stayed on the sidelines during the Walmart debate to "keep politics out of the planning process."
"I support them in their decision," he said about the council members.
Still, not all six no voters shared the same reasons for spurning the rezone. Councilman Van Turner argues Walmart needs more box to go big, especially for an in-store McDonalds and a garden center.
"In the long term, the square footage you'll have will do you an awful lot of good," he told Walmart's team. "That place is going to be packed the day it opens."