Walmart gets thumbs up from planning commission

By Linda Bentley | June 10, 2009

‘Citizens ought to be able to buy their goods in the town of Cave Creek’

P&ZCAVE CREEK – Dan Baxley was voted in as the new chairman of the planning commission by a vote of 6-0 with Commissioner Shelley Anderson, who had only just been appointed that Monday, voting “here.” Baxley is replacing the balance of Jim Bruce’s term as chairman since Bruce was elected to council.

Although Commissioner Bill Allen nominated Vice Chair Reg Monachino, there was no second.

Photo: Dan Baxley, seated between commissioners Shelley Anderson and Ted Bryda, took control of Thursday’s planning commission meeting immediately after being elected chair, but did not gain too many points with the public when he announced those wishing to speak would be given only one minute each.
Photo by Linda Bentley

The General Plan Amendment
Baxley announced to the packed room of about 160, the majority of which were there for the Walmart general plan amendment and rezoning applications, anyone wishing to speak would be allowed one minute, generating groans from attendees.

Attorney Sean Lake explained why Walmart chose the 20-acre site just south of the Bullington property on the southeast corner of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway, referring to the site as the hole in the middle of “the bagel,” meaning the demographic area it intends to serve.

Lake said Walmart does an extensive analysis of the demographics, traffic and other factors. And, although Walmart did look at the commercially zoned land on Carefree Highway to the west, Lake said it did not have the right demographics, adding, “This store is not just here for Cave Creek.”

Responding to comments about the site’s residential zoning, Lake pointed to the 13-acre commercially zoned Bullington property directly adjacent to the north, and the commercially zoned parcel directly to the east of the Bullingtons’ in Scottsdale, which is host to the community college and YMCA to the east of the Walmart site.

Noting the Chevron Station at the southwest corner, CVS and Lowe’s at the northwest corner, along with Home Depot, Fry’s and other commercial development along the south side of Carefree Highway to the west, Lake stated, “We do not see this as a residential intersection.”

Lake said the Walmart will be smaller than Lowe’s and set back much farther from the road.
To mitigate the impact of the proposed project to the residential property owners on Olesen Road to the south, he said there would be a significant buffer with limited access.

Questions from commissioners Allen and Ted Bryda adressed Walmart’s plans for the “out-lot,” referring to the less than one acre triangular-shaped parcel purchased by Walmart in conjunction with and adjacent to the two main parcels.

According to Lake, Walmart will be developing the entire 20.53 acres.

The Public
Lyn Hitchon, representing Carefree Sentinel Rock Estates, said 118 of those responding to her survey were opposed with one in favor, adding, “As to those angry references to Lowe’s, Lowe’s was always zoned commercial.”

Dean Phillips, who lives on Olesen Road directly across from the site, said, “I’m the closest homeowner to this” and talked about the water and sewer necessary to service the site. Citing the $22 million cost of a new sewage treatment plant, he asked how the town planned to come up with that kind of money.

Rebecca Lester, who lives on Spur Cross Road, said, “We cannot let this happen.”
Matthew Phillips, an Oleson Road resident, claimed property values have dropped $100,000 and, in some instances, are unsalable due to Walmart.

He also expressed extreme dissatisfaction with the chairman limiting adjacent property owners’ comments to only one minute.

Olesen Road resident Bill Wicevich questioned how a big box fits in with maintaining the quality of life for the citizens of Cave Creek.

Neal Schwartz, representing the Carefree Foothills Homeowner’s Association, expressed opposition to the project due to lights, noise and traffic safety.

Carol Perry, who lives south of Carefree Highway in Cave Creek, said she has been in favor of Walmart for ten years and stated every adjacent town has benefitted from the residents of Cave Creek buying their groceries in their towns.

Kathy Hulka, founder of the Dove Valley Coalition, said they have successfully fought Phoenix to keep commercial off Cave Creek Road and warned when Walmart comes into a small town the other businesses fold.

Carefree resident Arthur Gimson said the town thinks it’s being seduced by all sorts of promises from Walmart and suggested rather than being seduced it was being raped.
Herb Natker requested Baxley, Williams and Bryda recuse themselves from the entire meeting since the three had served on the committee that produced the “White Paper,” in which a recommendation was made supporting Walmart due to its potential to generate approximately $3 million per year in tax revenue for the town.

Frank Rizzo said if Walmart moved “down the street” it would gain support from the neighbors.

Ari Friedman stated there were two things that had not been mentioned – it will be a 24-hour store and will not have its own security guards. She disapproved of the store selling guns and said it would bring “undesirable people.”

The Rezoning
Lake’s comments were brief regarding the rezoning of the three parcels from residential to General Commercial and stated the store is “appropriate at this site” and indicated the Bullington property, which is currently zoned Commercial Core, would also be appropriate for General Commercial later on down the line.

He mentioned the parking lot lights would be 10’ poles and stated Cave Creek is more restrictive than other municipalities.

Anderson asked if Walmart would be the only occupant.

Sean LakeLake responded, “No, we have not made a decision on that out-lot. We will work with the town … we’re open to suggestions. We don’t know if there will even be an out-lot.”

In light of the traffic situation at the intersection and other needed improvements mentioned by Bryda, former Councilwoman Grace Meeth told the commission during public comment they were in a very powerful position that evening, indicating they could ask for concessions from Walmart and make the rezoning conditional.

However, Cordwell stated since the passage of Growing Smarter legislation, there is no longer any such thing as “conditional rezoning.”

Rob Papineau said the town needs the tax revenue and the only other, and far less desirable, alternative would be property taxes.

Without Walmart, Papineau said the town could face bankruptcy and end up in the federal government’s hands to be handed off to become part of Scottsdale or Phoenix.

Jacqueline Logan, who lives in the Los Alisos subdivision in Scottsdale, just north of the CCUSD campus off 60th Street, said she was opposed to Walmart and stated, “Our family will not shop there. If you approve this, I will do everything in my power to make sure you don’t get reelected.”

Korina Riggin said, “I agree all goods and services should be purchased in our town,” and mentioned her recent trip to Italy where there were no big box stores, but people were still able to buy all their groceries in town by going to the vegetable stand and then the butcher shop, etc. Riggin expressed opposition to Walmart and said it is impacting four communities.
Natker, once again, asked Bryda, Baxley and Williams to recuse themselves, stating, “You’ve already decided.”

Perry stated, “I haven’t heard the negative impacts. This Walmart is going to be smaller than Lowe’s.”

Photo: During Thursday night’s planning commission meeting Attorney Sean Lake explained to the commission and a packed house that the site purchased by Walmart last year is appropriate and stated, “We don’t see this as a residential intersection.”
Photo by Linda Bentley

The Verdict
Bryda moved to recommend approval of the general plan amendment and said, “I’ve sat here and listened to everyone. The county is taking Cave Creek Road and making it six lanes, Carefree Highway will be six lanes with four lanes to the east.”

Williams provided the second and said, as Natker brought up, he, Baxley and Bryda reviewed the town’s economic situation and concluded the town cannot continue on the same economic path.

Pointing out Cave Creek has grown from a population of 1,800 to 5,000 since 1996, Williams said even if the town were full of viable businesses the tax revenue would not be anywhere near enough to sustain the town.

Williams said, “Ten years ago Cave Creek had a gas station at the corner of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway.” He then named off every business in the immediate vicinity that has sprung up since while Cave Creek still has just a gas station at the corner.

“Cave Creek must change and develop new economic plans,” said Williams, adding, “Of course Lowe’s was rezoned.”

Allen acknowledged they weren’t talking about site plans that evening but stated, in the narrative provided, “Walmart is assuming the town is responsible for the water line.”

Baxley said he echoed Williams’ comments, stating, “It was startling what we discovered. We want to keep Cave Creek Cave Creek as best we can … Citizens ought to be able to buy their goods in the town of Cave Creek.”

Williams moved to recommend approval of the rezoning application, stating, “Even the AG says I’m allowed to have an opinion,” responding to Natker’s continued demands for the three commissioners to recuse themselves.

Anderson, who seconded the motion, stated, “They will work with you to make the best possible plan.”

The commission voted 5-2 in favor of both motions with Allen, who commented, “Not without a site plan” and Monachino dissenting.