Voters in Bella Vista have been waiting roughly 55 minutes on average to cast their ballots early ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.
Local election workers said Wednesday (Oct. 31) there has been a constant stream of voters each hour the polls have been open over the past two weeks.
Citizens for Responsible Development spokesman Tony LiCausi is hopeful those residents will vote against rezoning efforts by the local city council that would allow Wal-Mart to build a large scale Neighborhood Market at the busy intersection of Oldham Drive and U.S. 71.
The group hopes voters will do what the city council did not ,and that is stand up for what they say local citizens want and need, he said Wednesday (Oct. 31.)
The citizens group worked to get more than 4,000 signatures to ensure the issue got on the ballot because LiCausi said the council did not consider major concerns raised by property owners near that planned development.
LiCausi said the group has one common cause – a vision for Bella Vista that would raise property values. He said development should complement the beautiful topography this city is blessed with not, not destroy it.
He advocates discussion about other possible building structures – a mixed-use space – on the portion of the property that is already zoned commercial. He says this doesn’t require rezoning of the residential land or the need to widen the road for large trucks. In LiCausi
The proposed development by Wal-Mart required the rezoning of 6.44 acres of residential property to the highest level of commercial use, which would increase traffic and noise for a dozen or so homeowners who live nearby.
The large scale plan requires a major hill be cut down as well as a large grove of trees that now serve as a buffer zone from heavily traveled U.S. 71 and the neighborhood to the immediate west.
LiCausi is no stranger to city government. He retired in Bella Vista five years ago from the Dallas metroplex where he served on a local city council and worked with other 14 municipalities over a period of 50 years.
He said the city council has been determined to let Wal-Mart build there for more than two years. The council tried its best to hurry the permit process along even in the face of major opposition from several homeowners who stand to lose property value or face possible condemnation when the road is widened to accommodate the truck traffic that would serve a large retailer, LiCausi said.
Several hundred residents spoke out against the development at two meetings ahead of the rezoning vote. The city council waived the second and third readings and pushed the rezoning through despite a motion made by Alderman Jerry Snow for more discussion and a traffic study, which had not yet been done.
That’s when LiCausi and Harry “Butch” Newby, who lives in the affected neighborhood, got busy collecting 4,000 signatures to get the item on the ballot.
Newby, a former city attorney in Minnesota, said he retired in Bella Vista to play more golf, but he couldn’t just sit by and watch while city government allowed local property values for its residents sink.
The road widening that would need to take place if the proposed development occurs would come within six feet of one home and six other homes in the neighborhood would have the majority of their yards and driveways consumed, Newby told council members back in July.
He asked the council to slow down and consider the property values of these seven homes the city could end up owning if they are condemned and taken via eminent domain.
City planning director Chris Suneson assured the council that Wal-Mart would cover the cost of their half of the road and any of the right-of-ways needed from the center stripe to their side of the property, based on the plan they have submitted. This plan requires a left turn lane into their property from Oldham Drive.
Newby is running for city council in this election.
A group supportive of Wal-Mart’s proposed plans say the store will bring more jobs and a larger tax base to Bella Vista. They used the sign at the proposed site to send this message “Vote for Jobs X REF ORD 201210”
Wal-Mart spokesman Daniel Morales said the proposed store would bring 45 new jobs. He said Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has a pending contract to purchase the property contingent on the rezoning. The proposed 40,000-square-foot grocery store would have a four-pump gas station and pharmacy and be open 24 hours a day.
Wal-Mart executives have said this fiscal year they plan to add between 80 to 100 Neighborhood Market and Express stores into areas where there is room. The proposed Neighborhood Market location in Bella Vista is five miles from Walmart Supercenters located both north and south.
Wal-Mart’s smaller Express store format could be built on the proposed location in Bella Vista without the rezoning of the 6.44 acres of residential land, but that has not been proposed at this time.
Community rejection is nothing new for the world’s largest retailer who is not always welcomed in with open arms.
Just last month an Atlanta City Council voted 7-6 against rezoning that would allow a Walmart Supercenter to be build in Buckhead. Developers spent two years pushing a mixed development use project that proposed a supercenter within walking distance of the Lindbergh MARTA station directly across from a Target store.
In May, a Sioux Falls City Council voted down a rezoning plan (7 to 1) that would allow a Walmart Supercenter to be built. It would have the third supercenter in that city.
In both cases the city councils said large oppositions turned out against the rezoning which is why they chose not to approve it.
Citizens across Bella Vista have said repeatedly that they are not anti-Wal-Mart, they just don’t think the proposed location is right for a Neighborhood Market. If Wal-Mart wants to build in Bella Vista many suggest a location near the Highlands, where there is already commercial space available and no other grocery store in close proximity.
LiCausi says a vote against rezoning would essentially repeal the council’s action and offer more time for discussion.