Meijer in Waukesha doesn't receive enough votes Thursday to keep project moving forward

Published on: 8/9/2013

Not enough votes were cast in favor of changing a land use plan amendment to keep the Meijer development moving forward in the City of Waukesha at Thursday's Common Council meeting.

While it puts a halt into Meijer's plan for Waukesha, it doesn't mean the project is dead quite yet.

Six aldermen voted to change the 31-acre property at the southeast corner of Tenny Avenue and E. Sunset Drive from medium and medium-high residential to commercial and isolated natural resource area, while five voted against the change.

Nevertheless, it failed because eight votes are needed in amending a land use plan.

However, one of the five aldermen who voted in the minority (but who ultimately won Thursday night), could request to have it return to the agenda for another vote, City Planner Jennifer Andrews said. 

This could happen as there already was discussion after the vote of bringing it back. Andrews said if this happens there would just be a vote and not another public hearing on the land use plan amendment.

Four of the 15 Common Council members were absent from the meeting and Alderman Andy Reiland switched his vote from voting in favor of Meijer to against it after the Council voted twice after there was major confusion over voting rules on the first vote.

Andrews said Reiland's move could have been a way to make sure the land use plan amendment returns to the next Common Council meeting when more members are present to get the eight votes.

After the decision, Brian Randall, an attorney representing Meijer, said he'll have to re-evaluate what just occurred and is hoping it's not over for Meijer in Waukesha.

But as a result of the denial Thursday, the Common Council did not take action on rezoning the land to Community Business Planned Unit Development.

The Council's denial is against the Plan Commission’s recommendation who voted in favor of modifying the land to commercial. It had come before the Commission twice, once in May and once last month.

Those meetings brought out decent crowds, but nothing like Thursday.

In fact, the Council Chambers wasn’t big enough to hold the more than 100 people who came out to voice their opinion on the proposed Meijer development during a public hearing that lasted three hours and included close to 50 speakers (as well as two intermissions).

However, unlike at the Plan Commission meeting two weeks ago when a majority of the residents spoke out against the development, it was a more balanced audience.

But those who spoke in favor were still slightly outnumbered by those against it, many of whom addressed the Common Council twice to get their point across and were much more vocal.

And no matter what happens with the Common Council votes, the two sides (regarding the residents) clearly aren’t going to change their opinions. Mayor Jeff Scrima had to remind the audience multiple times to remain respectful to one another as people spoke.

An area of concern at the Plan Commission two weeks ago was the 24-hour element of the 192,000-square-foot store as well as the 2,500-square-foot fuel station that would accompany it.

At that meeting and Thursday’s Common Council meeting, residents and some aldermen questioned whether adding another similar type store to an area that already has a Woodman’s Food Market, a soon-to-be Walmart Neighborhood Market and a Pick ’n Save is needed and that it will put other stores out of business.

“I don’t believe it’s a viable site for it,” said Ken Heine, a resident who lives on Larchmont Drive who has spoken against the supercenter from the time Meijer was first proposed in May. “You should find a site that’s already zoned commercial.”

One resident questioned if Waukesha is becoming a big box-store city instead of a tree city.

And many residents felt that the increased traffic that will come with a store of this size will cause safety problems, light pollution, unnecessary noise, that a commercial development should not impede on a residential area, that it will decrease their property values and questioned the planning of the development. 

Randall, however, countered by saying, “Competition is good," and said, "we are much more than a grocery store.”

But another attorney in the audience, Joseph Cincotta, disputed Randall’s take.

“Competition is fine, but (Meijer) is asking for a favor, a benefit,” Cincotta said. “They’re asking for an exception and they’re asking you to change the rules so they can compete.”

Others, however, praised the planning and said the supercenter, in fact, will help the tax base. Many said the addition of the more than 250 jobs that will come along with the site is a benefit, including construction workers and contractors who were in attendance.

Those in favor of the development also said the area on Sunset Drive could use an economic boost and that competition is good for the area.

Andrews said there are many areas within the city that have commercial near residential, including the Westbrook Shopping Center on Moorland Boulevard and the Shoppes at Fox River.

She added a traffic study revealed this area can handle the traffic and that there will be significant landscape to act as a buffer for neighbors.

Andrews also said the city's Planning Department doesn't feel that adding Meijer will oversaturate the area and explained that officials have updated plans for just one access point from the original two.

“This would be a positive thing for the commercial district,” said Dave Smart, who along with his mother, who owns the site, were at the meeting. “We don’t want to diminish the neighbors. We feel it will do a lot to invest in the area.”

The initial plan in the proposal was to start construction in early 2014.

Meijer, which opened its first store in 1934, has more than 200 stores in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

And the food, clothing and home merchandise store is looking to expand to many Wisconsin cities including in nearby Sussex, Oak Creek, Wauwatosa, Grafton and Kenosha.

Randall has said in the past that many of Meijer’s stores are in residential areas and that they’ve worked to be good neighbors.