Despite neighbors' last-ditch efforts, Meijer plan moves forward
Changes land from residential to commercial
Neighbors of a proposed Meijer site once again filled City Hall. Many were actually in the same seats they used at the last Common Council meeting.
And like other meetings, they voiced their concerns and worries.
They wanted to get the message across to the Common Council that they didn't approve of the Meijer development coming into their neighborhood area.
However, a majority of the aldermen do approve of the project that would bring a 192,000-square-foot supercenter and a 2,500-square-foot gas station on the southeast corner of Tenny Avenue and East Sunset Drive.
And as many residents left disheartened after the Common Council voted 10-4 last week to approve a land-use plan change for the 31-acre parcel from medium and medium-high residential to commercial and isolated natural resource area, Meijer representatives had a different emotion as they exited City Hall doors.
"It's a very exciting time," said Jim Ostrowski, real estate manager for Meijer. "We're happy to continue to move forward, without a doubt."
Their happiness is warranted given that three weeks ago not enough votes were cast in favor of the land use change. Eight votes were needed, or a majority of the entire Common Council, for it to change.
Enough votes this time
After the first vote Aug. 8 that saw seven aldermen vote in favor of the the land use change, a second vote was taken and this time Alderman Andy Reiland switched his vote to the opposing side. While the land use still didn't change, it allowed him to request for the land use change to be brought before the Common Council once again.
And unlike the Aug. 8 meeting when only 11 of the 15 aldermen were present, 14 were at City Hall last week. Along with Reiland now voting in favor of the land use change, Alderman Peter Bartels changed his vote and three (Aldermen Aaron Perry, Terry Thieme and Christopher Hernandez) of the four previous missing aldermen voted in favor of changing the land to commercial.
"I see the development as an opportunity," said Perry, who added the more than 250 jobs that would result from the project is a major benefit that shouldn't be overlooked. "No development is perfect but we have the opportunity and (I) am confident moving forward that Meijer will construct a store we are proud of."
Listening to residents
Alderman Eric Payne, however, said the neighbors' concerns should be the No. 1 focus. That's why he, along with his son, Alderman Cory Payne, Alderman Steve Johnson, who represents constituents where Meijer would be built, and Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings voted against the land use change.
While Eric Payne said that he doesn't disagree that this area probably should be commercial in the future, he said "my conscious tells me to stick with the people in the area."
"I don't know when it is that we stopped listening," said a very adamant Eric Payne. "We're supposed to be a body that represents the people and the people of the district in that area are telling us they don't want this particular type of development. They worked very hard why they don't want it."
He added there aren't a shortage of stores similar to that of a Meijer throughout Waukesha. Some aldermen brought up that point but still voted in favor of the change.
"So the argument that we need a development of this type is nonsense," he said. "There's plenty of places — not exactly the same — but similar places to shop on every side of town."
Cummings said she supported the neighbors in that area who "did their homework" at this site.
Updates can be made
The Plan Commission has previously recommended in favor of the land use change and has given the development its full support after making updates to improve the development and to address some of the initial concerns.
And updates can still be made at the Plan Commission level and a public hearing on the rezoning and the planned unit development site plan before the Common Council still has to take place before the project is finalized.
But the fact the project got over this hurdle was upsetting to many residents who have stated why bringing in Meijer isn't best for the area on numerous occassions. The main concerns are noise and light pollution, safety from the increased traffic, that adding a new supercenter will hurt other nearby businesses and that the big-box store should not be a 24-hour operation.
Others, however, including a majority on the Common Council, said the development would help the tax base in this area and rejuvenate the east side of Sunset.
The old nearby Kmart site is in the process of undergoing a renovation as a way to rejuvenate the 11.7-acre parcel that has been vacant for close to two years.
But Randy Roth of Endeavour Corp. reiterated last week that tenants would not move into the 115,000-square-foot building at 120 E. Sunset Drive if the Common Council didn't approve the Meijer plan. For Roth and the potential tenants who wanted to be close to an anchor store, last week's land use change was a step in the right direction.
Keeping neighbors in mind
It's not official yet and Reiland said through various meetings, the neighbors' concerns will be addressed.
"I'm not turning my back on those concerns," Reiland said, "I truly believe Meijer would be a good neighbor. Even though I'm supporting the modifications to the site, I will make a promise that I will work with Alderman Johnson for the best solutions on the concerns that have been raised."
That's what Ostrowski's goal is as well.
"We're still going to work with neighbors to get input so we can be good neighbors," Ostrowski said. "And like some of the aldermen touched on it's not a done deal. We still have a ways to go."
But the path has now become much clearer.
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