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Concerned Citizens Speak Out On Traffic, Safety, And The Future Of Downtown

David Patrick and Mike Schilling speak out against the new Wal-Mart proposal. Credit- Shane Franklin

Some local citizens are rallying together to tell the Springfield City Council that the proposed Wal-Mart near downtown would do more harm than good for people in the neighborhood. KSMU’s Shane Franklin attended a gathering of concerned citizens, and has this story.

The local coalition known as Citizens Advocating Responsible Development gathered outside the Busch Municipal Building in Springfield Tuesday morning, to speak with the media before handing over documents to City Council. These documents contained their questions and concerns, based on their research of the zoning and planning issues associated with building the new 41,000 square foot Wal-Mart at Grand and Campbell, says Marla Marantz, an organizer at the event.

“Our main concern is that the footprint of this market far exceeds national zoning and planning standards for a true neighborhood grocery store. And in their application they don’t call it a neighborhood grocery store; they call it a supermarket and convenience store. Over 41,000 square feet is not the standard, whereas 3,000 to 20,000 square feet is the standard of a true neighborhood grocery store,” says Marantz.

They say that the traffic from a complex that large would overload already heavily burdened roadways, creating a consistent headache for the nearby residential neighborhoods, including Phelps Grove and Fassnight.

David Patrick, a local researcher and educator, takes issue with the traffic studies used to support the proposal, for several reasons. First, he says the studies were done over the winter holiday, when thousands of university students in the neighborhood had returned home. Also, the last studies were conducted four and five years ago, before more than 300 new students housing units were added to the neighborhood.

Patrick says the neighborhood coalition’s research not only indicates a large increase in traffic congestion, but also an increasingly dangerous traffic environment for both vehicles and pedestrians. They point to the fact that not a single traffic exit to the proposed store is equipped with stop lights.

Kathy Cowens, a longtime resident who would have to deal with the potential affects, stressed one point in particular.

“For me, Wal-Mart is not the issue. It’s the scale of this store, and it could be any store. And it doesn’t seem to fit with that local flavor, small business that the downtown has been trying to encourage,” says Cowens.

Mike Schilling, a former Missouri state representative and local professor, also showed up to present his case against the proposal for the new Wal-Mart. Although, he says that he applauds the City’s encouragement of development “where appropriate and feasible,” he says this proposal is a squeeze. He says it goes far beyond the scale of what is physically reasonable, and increases public safety risk, while overpowering the character of the neighborhood.

Schilling also doesn’t agree that the proposed Wal-Mart would bring any new jobs to the neighborhood.

“If they put other people out of business, then it’s just an offset. It doesn’t create new jobs, if you’re putting other people out of business. That could possibly happen. If you’re putting five supermarkets on top of four supercenter places, that’s huge,” says Schilling.

Schilling says that this will inevitably impact the smaller businesses in the area, and leave behind what he calls “the carcasses of craven commerce.”

Phyllis Netzer is a longtime resident of the area. She remembers when it used to be slums, and the City asked people to move in and invest their money. For the last fifteen years, she says she has seen the area develop and grow.

“The progress that has been made so far with just individuals buying businesses, building businesses, renovating property, helping schools get bigger, donating to community projects, these small businesses are doing a lot of that work, and I don’t see Wal-Mart doing any of that. And if these small businesses are gone, is the whole downtown, the whole area, going to go as backward as it was fifteen years ago?” Netzer questioned.

Other concerns the coalition expressed include noise and light pollution, the removal of green space, including a group of mature oak trees, which they say will contribute to storm water runoff, and a loss in their property value.

Wal-Mart’s corporate office was contacted about the citizen’s coalition’s concerns, but did not offer a response as of Tuesday afternoon.

For KSMU News, I’m Shane Franklin.