Wal-Mart tends to be the only place in town where one can buy a shotgun, electric turkey carver, industrial-grade trash bags and socks all in one go and at three in the morning. Yet such convenience doesn’t necessarily translate into people wanting a Wal-Mart right next to their house.
Case in point: the North Valley. An 188,000-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter has been proposed for construction on Osuna near the Vista del Norte housing development. The space currently sits vacant. If built, it would be the ninth Albuquerque location for the mega-box chain. Yet some area residents are concerned about the ways the store could impact their neighborhood.
A meeting with developers, city planners and Wal-Mart representatives was held last Thursday at the Desert Springs Church on Osuna, directly across the street from the proposed site. The meeting was facilitated by the City of Albuquerque and offered area residents an opportunity to voice their concerns.
The crowd appeared to be nearly unanimous in its opposition to a new Wal-Mart. Questions were geared mostly toward the traffic concern, but individuals also posed questions about crime, depreciation of property values and what several audience members referred to as “the introduction of undesirables into the area.” Several audience members cited the area surrounding the Central and San Mateo Wal-Mart as being chock full of riffraff, and they don’t want the same element being drawn into their neighborhood.
But the main point of contention for some residents isn't so much that a Wal-Mart is coming to the neighborhood, but that the proposed store is a Supercenter.
“We are opposed to a development of this size and scale,” says Steve Wentworth, president of the Alameda North Valley Association. “We are not opposed to Wal-Mart.”
Wentworth says the area would benefit from mixed-use development with spaces for a supermarket, bakery, offices and the like. He says Wal-Mart has smaller “community markets” which he believes would be more appropriate than what he refers to as “one megalithic market.”
Wal-Mart could not be reached for comment.
Ronald R. Bohannan, President of Tierra West, the developer for the project, was the first of seven people scheduled to speak at Thursday’s meeting. He says plans for the store have been in the works for three months. Wentworth stated in a phone interview that the neighborhood associations in the area had not been notified of the plans until about two weeks ago.
Wentworth adds that such a development would increase traffic in the area to unacceptable levels and cause “way too many problems overall.” He says he would like to work with the developer to put something more appropriate in the area.
Bohannan says his company conducted a traffic study in the area and concluded from the results that several traffic improvements would be needed to limit impact on the surrounding neighborhood. He says store plans call for sound-reducing walls along Vista del Norte, where the residential area begins.
The crowd, about 500 strong, was fairly unruly from the onset of the meeting, which began in earnest at 6:30 p.m. Bohannan spoke for roughly 15 minutes amid throngs of hecklers and then turned it over to a Q&A.
Bohannan was heckled liberally as he fielded questions. When asked if he would want a Wal-Mart next to his house, he said there is, in fact, a Wal-Mart right next to his house. He said the new Wal-Mart would not sell firearms but would sell liquor, which the audience did not like.
Bohannan was interrupted several times by Wal-Mart spokesperson Kimberly Randle, who expressed her company’s commitment to the community and desire to conduct a healthy dialogue with it. She also stated that Wal-Mart is the No. 1 corporation as far as charitable contributions are concerned.
The line of people wishing to speak stretched to the back of the large room and the meeting ended abruptly at 8 p.m., leaving no time for the other six speakers to present. The facilitators said additional meetings would be planned in the near future.
The Environmental Planning Commission was expected to vote on the site plan on June 15 but developers have since agreed to a 90-day deferral.
Wentworth said he would like to work with the developer to put “something more appropriate there.”
“We are not anti-Wal-Mart or anti-development,” he said. “We are pro-good development. And this is not good development.”