If Salt Lake City's latest community fight against big-box heavyweight Wal-Mart had a theme song, it would sound more like "If I Could Turn Back Time" than "Gonna Fly Now" from the "Rocky" series.
Addressing the Salt Lake City Planning Commission Wednesday night, 50-year east-side resident Elaine Brown suggested the Cher hit as a way to describe the bitter feelings of some longtime residents surrounding the property Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to develop at 2705 E. Parleys Way.
Residents felt excluded from the public process when Kmart was built at the site about 40 years ago, Brown said, and many believe they haven't had a voice in Wal-Mart's plans to raze the Kmart structure and build a new supercenter in its place.
That said, Brown encouraged the Planning Commission to approve Wal-Mart's request for a zoning to allow for a new store at the site rather than a renovation of the existing Kmart building.
Either way, Wal-Mart is coming to town, she said, and a new, more attractive and environmentally friendly store "is in the best interest of the community."
Brown's opinion wasn't shared by the majority of the 20 people who spoke during the public hearing. About 70 percent of those who expressed an opinion on the requested zoning change did so against allowing it.
"I am in complete objection to a rezone," said resident Bret Jordan. "It will allow this tenant or any future tenant to do things beyond the scope of what the community wants."
The Sugar House, East Bench, Greater Avenues, Bonneville Hills, Wasatch Hollow, Sunnyside East and Yalecrest community councils have passed motions or resolutions opposing the rezone because it is not supported by the East Bench master plan. They also contend that the big-box store would increase traffic and harm local businesses.
"We hope at some point in the future that the property would be used in a way more compatible with the interests of the neighborhood," resident Peter Barth said.
Wal-Mart purchased the 113,000-square-foot Kmart building in February 2005 with intentions to build a superstore roughly the same size on the 10.4-acre parcel.
To do that, Wal-Mart needs Salt Lake City to amend its master plan and alter zoning in the area from "community business" to "community shopping" actions that would require approval from the Planning Commission and the City Council. Community business zoning prohibits "hypermarkets" or "supercenters," as Wal-Mart calls them.
The Planning Commission listened to a presentation from the developers and comments from the public Wednesday, but it made no decision on the master plan amendment and rezoning request. A followup meeting with the Planning Commission has not yet been scheduled.
Troy Herold, vice president of Wal-Mart developer CLC Associates Inc., touted the merits of building a new store at the site, saying it would allow for more landscaping, more attractive parking and outdoor lighting.
It also would contain environmentally sustainable features "that are not feasible in a remodel of a 40-year-old building," Herold said.
Soren Simonsen, an architect and council member, disputed that claim, saying that old buildings can be remodeled to meet most green-building standards.
"Demolishing and rebuilding by its very nature is not a sustainable practice," Simonsen said.The problem, Herold said, is that renovation is more expensive, and the Parleys Way project has a budget. A remodel wouldn't allow for the quality of design and extent of landscaping planned for a new store, he said.