Neighbors mounting campaign against Wal-Mart grocery store

Nearby residents say Neighborhood Market would adversely affect Dierbergs, Schnucks

By Gloria Lloyd

Wal-Mart officials hope to open a smaller version of its stores at a busy Concord intersection, but some of the site’s neighbors are mounting a campaign against the plan.

At a county Planning Commission public hearing last week, Wal-Mart representatives made their case for a 41,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market on what is now a vacant lot next to a Petro Mart at Tesson Ferry and Butler Hill roads.

Neighborhood Markets are of comparable size to a typical grocery store and primarily carry groceries.

During the public hearing, a Wal-Mart representative said the new store will not generate additional traffic, citing the company’s own traffic study. Keith Hazelwood, a St. Charles attorney representing Wal-Mart, told the commission the smaller Neighborhood Markets bring “a lot less traffic, on a smaller scale” than SuperCenters.

Planning Commission member William Ballard told the Wal-Mart representatives, “I know you call it a ‘Neighborhood (Market),’ but people still come in from other neighborhoods.”

Mary Ann Gregory, who has lived on nearby Audjill Drive for 47 years, told the Planning Commission that traffic in the area is already congested. She is spearheading a campaign by Audjill neighbors against the store, which would be open 24 hours.

“Working people need their sleep, and the lights and traffic and noise will lead to declining health issues,” reads a letter residents plan to send to the commission. Everyone in her neighborhood signed a petition against Wal-Mart’s proposal, Gregory said.

If approved, the Neighborhood Market would be the first nontraditional Wal-Mart to open in St. Louis, at a time when the company is slowing new construction of its more familiar SuperCenters, which are about 180,000 square feet. Over the past year, the company has opened its first three Neighborhood Markets in Missouri, in Springfield.

A Springfield citizens’ group, Stand Up to Wal-Mart, obtained enough signatures to repeal the city’s fourth approved Neighborhood Market’s rezoning or put the issue to a referendum. The proposed store would be Wal-Mart’s 21st in Springfield, and opponents said they oppose the world’s largest retailer gaining more market share among the city’s grocery stores.

Hazelwood said Neighborhood Markets bring in an estimated $50,000 to $75,000 a year in new tax revenue and, on average, 50 jobs. However, neighbor Melessa Tobias said the market for groceries in the neighborhood is saturated, and any new grocery store will simply take business away from the Dierbergs and Schnucks a mile away.

Within five miles, residents can reach four Wal-Mart SuperCenters and two Sam’s Clubs. Not counting the SuperCenters, residents can access two grocery stores a mile away and at least nine additional grocery stores within five miles.

“Why would you want to put a grocery store next to another grocery store?” Gregory asked at the public hearing. “I’m not so naive to say that we won’t have commercial development. But I don’t see the need for another grocery store.”

The area is currently zoned for C-2 commercial use, but Wal-Mart is asking that the lot be rezoned C-8 commercial because the proposed store exceeds the 30,000-square-foot limit imposed by C-2 regulations. Wal-Mart also proposes to build a new intersection at Tesson Ferry and Old Tesson Ferry.

If approved, the company plans two acres of green space on the 5.7-acre lot. The site of the proposed store is about 11 feet higher than some of the nearby neighbors’ houses.

At the hearing, Ballard asked about the proximity of those residences to the store.

“We’ve got two acres of green space here,” said Wal-Mart’s engineering consultant, Rick Rohlfing of Washington. “I’d dispute your comment that it’s somewhat close.”

Ballard replied, “Two acres is not that big — I run it every day. And I’m an old man.”

Commission member Bill Sneed said he would be interested in some landscaping or fencing that separates the store from the neighbors.

“I’m just thinking of deliveries at night and headlights,” he said. “This is a fairly good elevation, and (lights) will really shine at these people.”

Rohlfing said a photoelectric study of the site found that “zero light” would shine onto the neighbors’ properties.

Customer service, carts and parking spaces are more readily available at a Neighborhood Market than at a SuperCenter, Hazelwood said, which customers appreciate.

“These stores have had such a favorable response from customers, we think, because they lessen the stress of shopping at the big box stores,” Hazelwood said. “The customer is getting the best of both worlds — they get away from the big box, and they still get the low prices Wal-Mart is known for.”

The Planning Commission took no action on Wal-Mart’s proposal. Commission members will consider the issue when they meet at 6 p.m. Monday, May 6, in the County Council Chambers at the Government Center, 41 S. Central Ave., Clayton.