Friday, December 08, 2006

City Gives Green Light to Wal-Mart

City Gives Green Light to Wal-Mart
By Ben Antonius

The Fairfield City Council has approved Wal-MartÕs plans to build a supercenter at the vacant Mission Village site. (Photo by Gary Goldsmith)

FAIRFIELD - It was a night of changes Wednesday.

The city changed its plans for the vacant Mission Village shopping center, several councilmembers changed their minds on Wal-Mart and the City Council changed a planning commission decision and gave the OK to the Supercenter project on North Texas Street.

The vote overturned a 3-3 tie by the planning commission that had essentially blocked the project.

The unanimous decision came at 1 a.m. Thursday, at the end of a six-hour meeting, roughly half of which was devoted to hearing from residents.

"That center staying vacant is not in anybody's long-term interest," Councilwoman Marilyn Farley said. "If you take aside whether you like or don't like Wal-Mart or their business practices, just about any other project would get approved on that site. Wal-Mart should have the same opportunity that any other business coming here would have."

Wal-Mart is now essentially clear to do the project, although there are still a few hurdles before construction can start.

One issue was raised unexpectedly Wednesday when a resident pointed out that some of the parking spots at the center are farther from the store than apparently allowed by city law.

Wal-Mart will have to figure out a solution to that issue before it can get a building permit, city planner Dave Feinstein said.

Company spokesman Kevin Loscotoff estimated that opening day would be within 12 to 14 months, depending on the permit process.

Wal-Mart will also have to prove it is abiding by more than 100 requirements placed by the council, Feinstein said.

The major complaints about the store were the noise and traffic it could generate and the air pollution associated with the added cars. There was also concern about business impacts, although a study indicated those would be limited.

Proponents largely cited the store's low prices and the convenience of being able to do many kinds of shopping in one place.

Among the requirements are special measures to protect neighbors from noisy trucks, the hiring of a crossing guard for Atlantic Avenue and Orchid Street, speed bumps in the parking lot, the lighting of a nearby bus stop and two seminars, sponsored by Wal-Mart, on helping small businesses compete with large retailers.

Councilman Frank Kardos said he was relieved to hear a planned Supercenter in Suisun City wouldn't open until at least 2010.

"The delay in the proposed Walters Road development (in Suisun City) gives us a couple years . . . to ease the impact on other stories like Raley's and FoodMaxx," he said.

Suisun City leaders said the approval wouldn't change plans to put Supercenter in Suisun City on land next to Highway 12 and Walters Road.

"They are two separate projects," City Manager Suzanne Bragdon said.

Wal-Mart finished a market study more than a year ago that stated the Fairfield and Suisun City area could easily support a superstore in each town, Suisun City Mayor Pete Sanchez said.

The environmental impact report on the proposed Suisun City Wal-Mart is expected to be finished by March 2007 and could go before the Suisun City Planning Commission and the City Council by late May 2007.

The Fairfield vote spells the end of plans to use the Mission Village center for a mix of homes and small businesses, although that had been in trouble ever since Liberty Christian Center bought a desirable part of the property in 2002.

"We preferred the mixed use but the mixed use became impossible once the church took that land," Councilman Jack Batson said. "Then all the interest from developers dropped off for a mixed use site because they wouldn't have enough store space to . . . to make it lucrative."

Batson, Farley, Kardos and Councilman John Mraz all said they changed their minds to varying degrees on Wal-Mart during the process. Mayor Harry Price couldn't be reached for comment Thursday.

"For the past two and a half years we have been working within the community to earn the support for the project and I think that's ultimately what we accomplished," Loscotoff said.

Mraz said he was happy when Loscotoff agreed during the hearing that Wal-Mart would boost its community donations to 8 percent to 10 percent of the new store's sales tax. The arrangement wasn't recorded in any legal documents, but it was done in public in front of a TV camera and Mraz said that would be enough to ensure the store follows through.

"I was very impressed by how they rolled over on the stipulations," he said. "If you look at what they have now it's a heck of a lot nicer than any of the Wal-Marts I have ever seen."

Staff writer Ian Thompson contributed to this report.

Reach Ben Antonius at 427-6977 or

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