Planning panel recommends denial of Wal-Mart grocery store

Planning staff recommended approval of new grocery store

By Gloria Lloyd

The county Planning Commission voted unanimously last week to recommend denial of Wal-Mart’s request to build a 24-hour grocery store in south county.

Wal-Mart’s proposal will head to the County Council in the next few weeks. The council could overrule the Planning Commission’s recommendation with a supermajority vote.

“I certainly did not envision a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week store there,” Planning Commission Chairman Wayne Hilzinger said, recalling the commission’s thoughts when it recommended rezoning the site at Tesson Ferry and Butler Hill roads from residential to C-2 commercial two years ago. “I think we were talking attached housing as a transition to single-family homes, we were talking neighborhood services — but certainly not a 24-hour grocery store.”

When the commission voted 7-0 May 6 to recommend denial of the rezoning, applause broke out from the audience, which included about 20 residents who live near the property. Most said they did not know about the proposed Wal-Mart before the commission’s April 15 public hearing.

Since then, however, Audjill Drive resident Mary Ann Gregory has mounted a campaign against the Wal-Mart that has increased the neighbors’ awareness of the possible development. Gregory organized a petition, passed out fliers to every house in the neighborhood and even flagged down passing cars to spread the word about the proposed development, she said.

Several other commission members echoed Hilzinger’s concern that when the commission rezoned the site, members never expected to see commercial development on the scale of a Wal-Mart grocery store on the property.

“A big part of that decision was that we were reserving this residential parcel to ‘screen’ the residents from other activity off this property,” commission member Bill Sneed said. “This proposal is asking to turn a good majority of that into C-8. I don’t think my opinion has changed from last time that this (property) should not be C-8, it should be residential.”

The world’s largest retailer wants the location to be the first of its smaller Neighborhood Market stores in the St. Louis area. Much smaller than SuperCenters, Neighborhood Markets primarily carry groceries and are about half the size of a typical grocery store.

A 24-hour grocery store could operate under C-2 commercial zoning, but the size of any buildings under C-2 is limited to 30,000 square feet. Wal-Mart wants the C-8 rezoning so it can construct a 41,000-square-foot building. The company also asked for a variance to build fewer parking spaces than required by the Missouri Department of Transportation.

During the April 15 public hearing, Wal-Mart attorney Keith Hazelwood of St. Charles said the company was asking for fewer parking spaces on the property, saying the parking space requirements are outdated in part due to the prevalence of Internet sales.

Fewer parking spaces built would mean lower traffic generation fees for upkeep of highways and streets in the area, commission member Steve Lawler noted.

“If (a building that size) requires 206 spaces, you know there’s going to be more traffic,” he said.

County Department of Planning staff recommended approval of the rezoning, with the stipulations that the company have no access to Griffin Road, that deliveries be limited to between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. and that the company build fencing and limit light-pole height in the back of the store, which would face a residential area.

The county Department of Highways and Traffic saw no traffic issues in the proposal and recommended approval.

Wal-Mart provided its own traffic study to the county — a study that said traffic in the area would not increase after the Neighborhood Market opens.

After the vote, resident Melessa Tobias, who helped Gregory organize the campaign against the Wal-Mart, said neighbors were pleased with the outcome.

“I’m so happy they were in favor of not having anything 24 hours, ever,” she said. “It’s a subdivision. It’s a residential area.”

Gregory said she is confident the County Council will listen to residents and their concerns about the store.

“We’ve sent them hundreds of emails,” she said. “We’ve inundated them.”