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City Council approves zoning for Sam's Club in northwest Wichita

Wednesday, December 5 2012 12:00 AM

City Council approves zoning for Sam’s Club in northwest Wichita

By Rick Plumlee

The Wichita Eagle

Sam’s Club has the green light to build its third store in Wichita after the City Council on Tuesday approved zoning changes for an area in northwest Wichita.

On a 6-1 vote, the council agreed to change zoning for the northeast corner of 29th and Maize from single family residential to light commercial.

That will allow Sam’s to put in a 136,000-square-foot store that company officials have said will employ 150 people. The vote came after several months of negotiations between nearby residents and Sam’s, the membership-store division of the Wal-Mart retail empire.

Residents, mostly from the upscale Fox Ridge Estates neighborhood, had opposed Sam’s moving into the area because of concerns about aesthetics and safety.

“From where we started in August, I do believe it’s a victory for both sides,” said Becky Jones, a Fox Ridge resident who was active in the process.

No residents were allowed to speak at the meeting Tuesday. Public comments on zoning changes are taken at Metropolitan Area Planning Commission hearings, which were held before Tuesday’s vote.

Sam’s agreed to more 30 changes after meeting with residents, said council member Jeff Longwell, whose District 5 includes the area.

“I think Sam’s has gone way beyond what we’ve ever seen a developer willing to do,” Longwell said. “They’ve probably helped us set a new standard for upscale development. This should fit in with this neighborhood very well.”

Fox Ridge resident Greg Allison said the discussions “helped mitigate a lot of concerns.” But he also noted that residents whose properties will back up to Sam’s are still worried about noise, trash and the parade of semi-trailer trucks making deliveries.

Jones said it would have been best if the city had stuck with the original comprehensive plan that called for neighborhood-type small businesses, such florist shops, shoe stores and medical offices.

“But I’m much happier with this than what was first planned,” she added.

Council member Lavonta Williams was the lone dissenting vote on the project. She cast a no vote in part because her representative on the MAPC also objected to the project and because of what she was hearing from concerned residents.

“I’m a community person,” she said. “It was a really hard decision. There was nothing specific. It was just one of those feelings.”

One of the changes Sam’s agreed to make was including a façade that fits in with the neighborhood, with brick and stone on all four sides of the building. Other retail outlets built on the now vacant 38-acre lot will be required to have a similar façade.

Sam’s will occupy about 15 acres. Another parcel will be about eight acres and five others will be broken up into smaller pieces.

The agreement calls for Sam’s to limit the other kinds of retail that it would develop on the lot. For example, car washes, hotels, motels and apartment complexes won’t be allowed, Longwell said.

Outdoor speakers also won’t be allowed, which means fast food restaurants would be excluded.

Sam’s also agreed to increase the landscaping of berms that will serve as a buffer between the development and the neighborhood. Those berms will be built before construction begins, Longwell said.

The buffer between commercial development and the property lines was extended from 35 feet, as required by code, to 140 feet.

“At the end of the day I think they’re trying to make it fit into the neighborhood as best as they can,” Longwell said. “Some of the changes were quite expensive.”

Construction is expected to start soon.

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