Sorry, Wal-Mart. East-side residents are calling your bluff.
An informed and well-organized group of residents who live near the Kmart building at 2705 E. Parleys Way pleaded with planning commissioners Wednesday night to force Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to play by the rules in its plans to redevelop the site.
After three-plus hours of debate and discussion that wrapped up shortly after 11 p.m., the Planning Commission unanimously voted to do just that. The commission is forwarding a recommendation to the City Council that Wal-Mart's requests for a zoning change and an amendment to the East Bench master plan be denied.
Applause erupted immediately after the vote from the roughly 100 residents who hung around for the late-night decision.
"I find no compelling, substantial reason to rezone for this particular project," said Commissioner Peggy McDonough.
"This is a good proposal," added Commissioner Tim Chambless, "but it's in the wrong place."
Promising a more attractive and environmentally friendly supercenter, Wal-Mart officials wanted to tear down the existing Kmart building and construct a new store roughly the same size in its place.
To do that, Wal-Mart needed Salt Lake City to amend its master plan and alter zoning in the area from "community business" to "community shopping" actions that require approval from the Planning Commission and the City Council. Community business zoning prohibits "hypermarkets" or "supercenters," as Wal-Mart calls them.
If the City Council follows the commission's recommendation as expected, Wal-Mart officials say they will proceed with Plan B remodeling the Kmart building.
A remodel will be more costly, said developer Troy Herold, so Wal-Mart isn't promising to include all of the landscaping and green-building amenities proposed for the rebuild.
"The reality is there's a budget for this project," said Herold, vice president of CLC Associates Inc.
Several residents who spoke during a public hearing Wednesday night criticized Wal-Mart officials for using the proposed rezone and the public input it would require as bargaining chips for the change.
"It would appear that community input is only valuable (to Wal-Mart officials) when it's on their terms," said Peter Barth, who lives near the superstore's future home. "It's conditioned upon them getting what they want first. ... That doesn't sound like a very good neighbor."
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.
The Foothill Sunnyside Community Council, however, voted to support the master-plan and zoning-map amendments, saying that would allow neighbors to have a say in the design of the new supercenter.
Several residents said the ability to weigh in on matters of design and landscaping are not nearly as important as making sure zoning of the property doesn't allow for big-box stores when and if the Parleys Way Wal-Mart closes.
"We're hoping that one day the property will be used in a way that is more compatible with the community," Barth said.
In the meantime, residents are betting that Wal-Mart will remodel the Kmart building in a way that improves upon the existing store."They're going to do everything possible to make the building attractive to bring people there," resident Bret Jordan said. "They don't need a rezone."