Representatives for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. maintain that a zone change is needed for a supercenter planned on Parleys Way, but residents aren't buying it.
At a meeting Wednesday night with about 80 residents and members of the Sugar House Community Council, an attorney, transportation engineer and a developer working for Wal-Mart tried to make a case for changing the zoning at the 10-acre property at 2705 E. Parleys Way from "community business" to "community shopping."
Community business zoning prohibits the type of retail the city calls "hypermarket," or in Wal-Mart parlance, supercenters.
Kmart has occupied the property for four decades but is closing because of low sales. Wal-Mart purchased the property in 2005. Eleven months later, the city decided to prohibit hypermarkets from community business areas, a move Troy Herold of Wal-Mart developer CLC Associates calls ironic.
If Wal-Mart can get the zoning change which will require Planning Commission and City Council approval it will raze the Kmart building and build a modern store. Herold promised the new store will not be larger than the 120,000-square-foot Kmart building and will include more landscaping.
To sweeten the deal, Wal-Mart is offering the incentive of signing a "planned development agreement" a contract with the city that requires the company to stick to its plans.
"Of course, this is all contingent on their approval (of a zone change)," said Karianne Fallow of Wal-Mart public affairs.
If Wal-Mart cannot get the zoning change, it has some legal rights, including the right to operate the store with retail and grocery components, and the right to expand the existing building.
However, residents said the whole point behind the current zoning is to keep businesses small and serving the Country Club, H Rock, Beacon Heights and Arcadia Heights neighborhoods.
"The problem with Wal-Mart is Wal-Mart is a regional store," said community council member Rawlins Young. "The zone is not designed to compete with the nearby Foothill Village. I don't see how you can change the zoning."
The property is at or near the intersections of Foothill, I-80, I-215, Parleys and Wilshire.
"Adding more traffic to these intersections that barely make it would be a disaster," said Jan Britain of the citizens group Foothill Development Watch.
Joseph Perrin, a traffic engineer who was hired by Wal-Mart to study the area, said that traffic will increase with the store, but Parleys can handle it.
"Parleys Way is underutilized," he said.
Britain also wishes Wal-Mart would remodel the existing building. That would avoid the need for a zoning change.
"It is going to be more expensive for Wal-Mart to remodel," Herold said.
"I don't have a lot of sympathy for them," resident Peter Barth said. "We're talking about one of the largest corporations in the world with limitless resources."
Elaine Brown, one of two who spoke in favor of the zoning change, said that the supercenter will open whether residents like it or not.
"It seems to me it's advantageous to do the rezoning so we can have a nicer building and a nicer property."A Wal-Mart presentation to the East Bench Community Council is scheduled tonight at 7 at Dilworth Elementary, 1953 S. 2100 East.