Traffic congestion is the thorniest issue flagged in an environmental assessment for a proposed Wal-Mart on Blaine's east side, according to the city's community development director.
The proposed Wal-Mart superstore on Ball Road would be less than a one-mile drive from an existing Wal-Mart and is fiercely opposed by adjacent homeowners.
Wal-Mart wants to open the proposed store so it can sell a full line of groceries. A covenant limits Wal-Mart from grocery sales at its current 142,000-square-foot location in the Village of Blaine shopping center. The shopping center also includes a Cub Foods.
The environmental report examined the 39-acre Ball Road site, which borders Interstate-35W just off of Lexington Avenue. A proposed 182,000-square-foot Wal-Mart would generate an additional 12,400 auto trips each day on Ball Road, the report said.
Last Thursday, the Blaine City Council determined that the environmental assessment work sheet is "substantially complete." It will now be sent to state and local agencies for review. The public also gets to weigh in during a 30-day comment period.
The council is expected to take final action on the environmental report in early August. If it determines there are no environmental holdups, that will pave the way for Wal-Mart to submit a development application later this summer.
"Obviously, the roads need to be improved. There are traffic impacts that need to addressed on Ball Road and Lexington," Blaine Community Development Director Bryan Schafer said before the council meeting. "There is nothing in the report to date that can't be addressed — nothing significant."
The 24-page environmental report examined such side effects as traffic and pollution on wildlife, air, water and people.
The proposed shopping complex, which could also include a bank, a fast-food outlet and other stores, would encroach on a quarter acre of the 4.8 acres of wetland on the site, but that would be replaced, according to the report.
"None of the natural communities remaining on the property are of high ecological quality and none of the natural communities or vegetation types occurring on the site are protected by state law," the report said.
Many homeowners whose neighborhood borders the building site oppose the project, citing concerns over traffic congestion, noise, water runoff, declining property values and the safety of children and families who walk and bike. They've formed a nonprofit called Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth.
Nearly two dozen people showed up at the meeting Thursday night and two addressed the council.
"I have yet to hear one good, common-sense reason to go forward with this project," said Harold "Holly" Hollander.
Council members assured residents that moving the environmental report to the public comment phase doesn't mean the debate is over.
"Passing this does not mean the city is voting yes or no on Wal-Mart," said Council Member Dave Clark. "It's part of our due-diligence and regulatory process."
Mayor Tom Ryan did say the land is zoned for commercial use and that its owner has rights, too.
"If it isn't Wal-Mart, it's going to be something else and it's going to be big," Ryan said.