For more than one hour Bella Vista residents poured out their hearts begging their city council members to take more time to consider traffic, safety and convenience issues regarding a proposed Walmart Neighborhood Market along U.S. 71 and Oldham Drive.
But it seemed the council — at least five of the six aldermen — were anxious to put this volatile issue to bed, defeating a motion made by Alderman Jerry Snow to table any vote for 90 days to allow for a complete traffic impact study.
The council approved a rezoning request with a 5-1 majority with little discussion after waiving the second and third readings of the ordinance. Snow was the dissenting vote.
On Monday, (June 25) the council took up the rezoning request following a recommendation from its planning commission earlier this month.
A crowd of more than 200 residents got a little rowdy when it became apparent the majority of the council wanted to move on hurriedly through the hotly debated issue that has dominated the city’s conversation for the past month.
“You sold us out.”
“Thanks for nothing.”
“Don’t know why we bothered.”
Those were a few of the sentiments shouted from a disappointed crowd following the vote.
A dozen or so Wal-Mart employees who came in support of the issue exited the meeting immediately following the count.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to build a 40,000 square foot Neighborhood Market and four pump gas station along U.S. 71 at Oldham Drive — deemed one of the busiest intersections in the city.
The Bentonville behemoth already has supercenters within 5 miles both north and south of the proposed location but has said it’s eager to partner with Bella Vista in this proposed venture.
Wal-Mart’s solution to the traffic concerns is another stop light at the intersection for which a preliminary approval has already been secured by the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department, according to Wal-Mart spokesman Daniel Morales.
Tony LiCausi, a local resident and former city activist in the Dallas, metroplex, said at Monday's meeting there’s a reason you won’t find a Kohl’s in Eureka Springs or big box of any kind in the entire state of Vermont.
“These folks understand the value of uniqueness. People are willing to pay for more unique. Look around here — go to the Bentonville Square any evening and see the quaintness that draws people in. I urge you think about how you keep Bella Vista unique. In a few weeks you will stand in line to shop at Fresh Market in Rogers and drive past three or four traditional or big box grocers to do it because it’s unique,” he said. “There’s nothing unique about another Walmart.”
John Gilbert also a local resident, would like to see a parts store, Golden Corral or another restaurant building on the parcel.
“I am against a large commercial venue because that area is already a traffic concern,” he said.
Several residents asked the council to consider suggesting another location to Wal-Mart, something on the west side near the Highlands and Hiwasse.
With Wal-Mart’s home base located just five miles down the road and many corporate employees residing in Bella Vista the potential for conflict is high.
Patricia Haas, raised those issues with the council Monday evening. She said two planning commission members, Debra Lewis and Daniel Ellis, have connections to Wal-Mart.
“Debbie recused but Daniel did not disclose his conflict as an employee of Crafton Tull that does work for Wal-Mart,” Haas said.
She also pointed out the Stephen Giles, the attorney representing the property owner Betty Garcia, also does work for Wal-Mart, to which the crowd cheered.
“It seems to me there are serious considerations about both safety and trust that bear more discussion. We have elected you to be our voice, please do not allow this,” Haas said.
More than 200 residents at the meeting were against the rezoning issue. About dozen and a half or so folks raised their hands as Wal-Mart employees, and two of those who spoke in favor of the proposed project.
Harry Newby, who lives in the immediate neighborhood, has been outspoken from the beginning urging the council to get a traffic study before they took a vote. He delivered a petition against the rezoning measure with 2,656 signatures, that began after the rezoning request was made last month.
Betty Garcia, the property owner with the pending sell contract to Wal-Mart said she doesn’t understand the opposition. But other residents noted that Garcia, nor any of the council member live in the neighborhood deemed ground zero for impact.
Morales said the proposed Neighborhood Market will bring 45 new jobs, additional tax base and low prices for the residents of Bella Vista.
Monday's vote clears the way for Garcia's pending sale to Wal-Mart to close so the retail giant can move ahead with it's proposed plan.
Meanwhile a vocal majority of residents are not quietly going away.
Farrell Matlock, writes on Facebook following the meeting: “Surely there's a way to circumvent this. Can there not be a petition to put the issue on the ballot? This is an obvious situation of the representatives ignoring the will of the people. Let's find a way to get this on the ballot and let the PEOPLE speak for themselves.”