Residents oppose rezoning to make way for Walmart (Updated)

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 147 views 

It’s no secret the Bentonville-based retail behemoth would love to put a Walmart store of some sort in Bella Vista, as it continues to scour the country for more real estate amid a very saturated landscape.

But several Bella Vista residents in the chosen neighborhood oppose the rezoning of 6.4 acres of residential and surrounding woodlands which would become eligible for commercial use by Walmart.

Walmart has a pending contract to purchase the corner lot at Oldham Drive and U.S. 71 which is already zoned commercial, but the deal is contingent on the Bella Vista City Council approving a motion to re-zone 6.4 acres of woodland behind the narrow frontage lots.

The motion was tabled a week ago when a large crowd of protestors exceeded room capacity. It was rescheduled for 6:30 p.m., June 11, at a location yet to be determined.

Harry Newby lives in the immediate neighborhood and is circulating a petition around the village. He is asking that residents get their say and a full look at any plans to rezone their little piece of serenity. The plans call for a Walmart Neighborhood Market at the expense of the woodlands that separate his home from the busy commercial district where Oldham Drive meets U.S. 71.

“It’s not that I oppose Walmart, I shop and buy gas there already. I just don’t want the extra traffic and noise in my neighborhood. Walmart will not put a store in unless they can generate 1,000 to 2,000 cars a day,” Newby said during a city council meeting Monday, May 21.

He fears the bulk of those cars will come up and down Oldham, and a stop light will further increase traffic on Oldham and impede traffic flow on U.S. 71.

Newby asked the council to “have a full blown hearing, get all the information you can from all sides before you approve the zone change to commercial.”

The Bella Vista Property Owners Association that has managed to keep Walmart out of the village for decades has no control over this particular parcel, which is owned by Betty Garcia and does not fall in the POA jurisdiction.

Garcia is a broker with Crye-Leike Realtors in Bella Vista and did not respond to The City Wire’s request for comment.

“This area is not in Bella Vista Village so the POA has no jurisdiction over the issue. However, I do understand the concerns being expressed,” POA President Tommy Bailey noted in an e-mail.

Steve Morrow, also a resident who lives west of the proposed development, asked the council to consider the property values of the homes nearby.

Morrow manages Allen’s Grocery and has been a community activist since moving to Bella Vista in 1997.

“I hate to see any of our residential land rezoned. The reason why I moved here in 1997 was for the peaceful village feel. I was managing a store in Rogers at the time.  I know the city needs to increase its tax base. I backed the sales tax increase several years ago because I live here and understand the importance of a police force and fire department to protect our residents. But I hate to see our wooded hillsides demolished and paved over,” Morrow said.

He said other businesses in Bella Vista had to locate in the limited areas already zoned commercial and adhere to strict architectural building codes.

“Walmart should have to follow the same rules,” Morrow said.

Newby told the council some residents fear the deal will be rubber-stamped without any regard for how property values could be impacted in the immediate and surrounding neighborhoods along Oldham Drive.

Mayor Frank Anderson and several other aldermen shook their heads “no” at the notion that any rezoning issue would be rubber-stamped without full discussion.

The signage announcing the zoning request to be heard May 14 was placed parallel to the road barely visible by drivers as the traveled west or east bound on Oldham Drive — a crooked, narrow road winding up the hillside. The sign is also located on the parcel already zoned commercial, not in the wooded area between the homes and the commercial district.

Morrow says there is always competition in the grocery business and he didn’t say a word when Walgreen’s and Dollar General came to town because they sought out commercial property for their stores.

"Why should Walmart get to take any shortcuts at the expense of Bella Vista property owners in that neighborhood," Morrow said.

Store opposition is nothing new for Walmart in California, New York and more recently in San Antonio, Texas or Sioux Falls, S.D. as neighbors don’t want to live near a 24/7 giant big box retailer.

Earlier this month the city council in Sioux Falls rejected Walmart’s rezoning request that would have allowed the retailer to build a supercenter in a southeast Sioux Falls neighborhood. The major complaints were added traffic and drainage concerns.

The local issue is riddled with potential conflict as Bella Vista is home to numerous Walmart executives and corporate employees with inevitable ties to the council and planning commission members.

Local residents say they just want to be heard before the trees and green space that drew them to the village is sold without proper disclosure and full consideration for the quiet neighborhood they love.

Daniel Morales, Walmart spokesman, said the Bella Vista store is in a very early stage.

"This is just the first of many steps it would take to put a store in Bella Vista, but the preliminary plans call for a Neighborhood Market," he said.

Morales added that when the time is right and a deal can be struck Walmart looks forward to working with the community to bring "everyday low prices and 95 jobs to the town."