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Developers walk a tightrope in balancing neighborhood concerns with getting deals done

Monday, September 10 2012 12:00 AM

Developers walk a tightrope in balancing neighborhood concerns with getting deals done

Premium content from Wichita Business Journal by Daniel McCoy, Reporter

Date: Friday, September 7, 2012, 5:00am CDT 

When Sam’s Club recently acknowledged plans for a new Wichita store at the northeast corner of 29th Street North and Maize Road, the news didn’t sit well with some nearby homeowners, who are planning to make their concerns heard during the hearings required to rezone the land for retail.

In a perfect world, local developers say, you’d be able to talk with a project’s neighbors and mitigate their concerns beforehand so there would be no issues after a plan is announced.

But development isn’t a perfect world — it’s a competitive one.

“It’s hard to get out in front of these things before they happen,” says Doug Malone, ofJ.P. Weigand & Sons Inc. “If you start talking to a lot of people before you’ve got a deal, you’re not going to get a deal.”

The true mitigation of such problems, he says, often has to take place after the deal is done.

And there is usually plenty that can be done by developers, who, he says, should be empathetic to their neighbors.

“As a developer, you have to do your best to eliminate as many distractions and inconveniences for the neighbors as possible,” he says.

Marlin Penner, of commercial broker John T. Arnold Associates, says its always best to work with neighbors. Typically, he says, developers are willing to make concessions that address their concerns.

But, like Malone, Penner says that doing so in advance can create problems.

“If you let your competition know what you’re doing in an area that early on in the process, you could lose your whole reason for going there in the first place,” Penner says.

Wichita City Council member Jeff Longwell represents the area where Sam’s is planning its new store.

He isn’t picking a side yet, but he says that major intersections like 29th and Maize tend eventually to be developed commercially.

He also says that past experience with Sam’s — and with its parent-company, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. — in west Wichita has proved the company to be cognizant of neighborhood concerns.

“What I have found is that they have been willing to go to great lengths to be a good neighbor,” Longwell says.

Becky Jones lives in Fox Ridge, just to the east of the proposed site. She is among the neighbors opposed to Sam’s building there.

She says neighbors expected the area to be developed eventually, but they understood it would be local commercial development.

A big-box store like Sam’s, she says, would mean a lot more traffic, which fuels her main concern — the safety of local residents.

Other concerns, she feels, could likely be addressed, but she doesn’t see a way around the dangers she believes increased traffic would pose to residential area she says has a lot of pedestrians.

“We have nothing against Sam’s Club,” Jones says. “We all love Sam’s. But I’m not sure what can be done about the safety issue and traffic. There must be a more appropriate place in Wichita for it.” 


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