A two-lane road with a roundabout would be the sole way into and out of a proposed 183,000-square-foot Wal-Mart superstore in Blaine.
The store would be located on a 27-acre pocket of land between Interstate 35W, a Department of Natural Resources wetland and an established neighborhood.
Wal-Mart representatives say the retailer is willing to invest $2.6 million in road and right-of-way work to make the store a reality. Wal-Mart’s people said they’ve even approached the Minnesota Department of Transportation about restructuring an I-35W ramp to funnel shoppers directly to Wal-Mart. MnDOT has said it isn’t interested in the idea.
Neighbors, some of whose homes would be directly across from the 24-hour Wal-Mart on Ball Road, are fiercely fighting the development. Traffic on their street would increase from 3,000 vehicles a day to 14,000, including more than two dozen semis and dozens of small trucks a week. And homeowners say perhaps the hardest pill to swallow is that the proposed Wal-Mart is less than a mile from an existing one.
On Jan. 16, the Blaine City Council heard from Wal-Mart representatives and the landowner seeking approval for the deal and from neighbors who pleaded with the city to reject it. The meeting extended late into the night. Council members, concerned about traffic and other effects, peppered Wal-Mart officials with questions and ultimately delayed a decision until February.
Wal-Mart wants to open the superstore 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.
Wal-Mart has expanded aggressively in the north metro, recently opening stores in Andover, Brooklyn Center and along Central Avenue in Blaine.
Landowner Martin Harstad, who wants to sell to Wal-Mart, stood before the council and spoke extensively about the property’s history. His father acquired a large tract of land including the proposed Wal-Mart site in the 1980s. It was zoned for commercial development. Harstad’s father had part of the tract rezoned residential and built the 170-home neighborhood called Belmont Acres that’s largely opposing the big-box store’s construction.
The Harstad family shopped the remaining land around for years. It’s still zoned for commercial use and borders the interstate.
“I had many, many inquiries on this property, all from big-box users. We always came in second place,” said Harstad, describing conversations with Best Buy, Menards, Lowe’s, a hotel chain and a movie theater.
“We never purchased it intending to hold it for 30 years. I think it [Wal-Mart] will be a good addition to the city,” Harstad told the council, pointing out that he paid $48,400 in property taxes last year alone.
Harstad wants to sell 27 acres to Wal-Mart but would keep about 10 adjacent acres for additional commercial development.
Afterward, dozens of neighbors implored the council to deny the project, arguing that the site so close to the neighborhood Harstad’s father built would now ruin it. Opponents, organized as Blaine Citizens for Smart Growth, argued that city ordinance precludes new development that excessively burdens streets and hurts neighboring properties.
“We know this project has already caused depreciation. We have documented proof folks cannot sell their property,” said resident Holly Hollander. “Wal-Mart is already in the neighborhood. They are very close in the Village. … Ninety-five percent of the homeowners I talked to did not want this Wal-Mart in our neighborhood.”
Residents weren’t swayed by Wal-Mart’s explanation for building a new store less than a mile from an existing one.
“Why are we the ones taking the hit because Wal-Mart did not plan correctly?” asked Teresa Blossom. “The 170 houses are also paying taxes.”
According to the group, the 170 homeowners pay about $425,000 in taxes a year.
The effects of a superstore would devastate the neighborhood, some said.
“The homes across the street will have no value,” neighborhood organizer Cathy Harrison said after the meeting.
She said the notion of $2.6 million in road improvements is self-serving and would only benefit Wal-Mart.
“The $2.6 million is the most minimal effort,” she said. “There are no crosswalks. There are no sidewalks. The neighborhood has no access.”
The council asked Wal-Mart representatives questions about traffic congestion, hours of operation, lighting and what will happen to the old store. Wal-Mart would likely sell the current store in the Village.
Asked whether the company would consider buying out homes that would be most affected by the new store, Wal-Mart representative said no, they didn’t believe it was their “obligation” and would set a “bad precedent” nationally.
Blaine Mayor Tom Ryan seemed to be leaning toward Wal-Mart’s position. “The last man standing … is the one who gets nailed on everything. It’s been the same on every issue we do. Close the door and lock it,” Ryan said. “… Everybody is subject to change in their life.”
Council member Dave Clark seemed more receptive to residents’ concerns, at one point asking the city attorney, “What are their rights as a homeowner?”
The council will again consider Wal-Mart’s application at its Feb. 13 meeting.