Walmart another step closer to reality

By Linda Bentley | February 3, 2010

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‘I’ve been accused of never seeing a development project I didn’t like … There may be some truth to that’

CAVE CREEK – After determining it would be beneficial to the town, council unanimously approved referring a franchise agreement with Southwest Gas Corp. to voters on March 8, 2011.

According to Town Engineer Wayne Anderson, Southwest Gas would pay the town a 2 percent franchise fee under the agreement, which he said would generate approximately $25,000 per year.

Ann Seiden, representing Southwest Gas, said Southwest Gas generated around $38,000 in sales tax for 2008 but didn’t have figures for 2009.

After Town Attorney Marlene Pontrelli suggested a couple of modifications and deletions to the agreement, Seiden reassured council Southwest Gas has entered into similar franchise agreements with 12 to 15 other municipalities throughout Arizona and it has worked out well for everyone.

Associate Planner Luke Kautzman gave a brief introduction to the next agenda item, deferring to Walmart Attorney Sean Lake to present the site plan and answer any questions council might have.

Lake said, “It’s nice to be here to take one more step toward getting this project done,” and praised staff’s efforts in helping them through the process.

He stated the site plan meets all of the town’s zoning requirements and said Walmart has agreed to all conditions of approval recommended by staff.

Lake briefly explained the landscape plan, provided an overview of concessions it has agreed to make on behalf of the homeowners on Olesen Drive and stated the commitments to the neighbors was made in writing.

He went over the traffic improvements planned for the intersection of Cave Creek Road and Carefree Highway, which included double left turn lanes for northbound traffic and right turn deceleration lanes into the property.

Councilman Adam Trenk asked if the proposal for the intersection improvements meant Walmart would be paying for them.

Lake replied there would be offset credits from development fees contributing to the improvements.

He clarified Walmart would be getting its water from Cave Creek. Although in a Phoenix water district, Lake said he met with Phoenix Councilwoman Peggy Neely, who indicated the city had no desire to provide water to the site.

On another note, Lake stated Walmart has been in conversations with the Bullington Family Trust, which owns the commercial property directly to the north, regarding shared or cross access between the two properties. Lake said it was a private property matter but he wanted council to know Walmart will continue to work with the Bullingtons to resolve the issue.

bullingtonThe Bullingtons’ Attorney Paul Gilbert said his clients were “delighted to hear about the improvements” and were “very happy” about the Walmart development.

Gilbert said, “I’ve been accused of never seeing a development project I didn’t like … There may be some truth to that.”

Although in favor of approving the Walmart site plan, Gilbert said, “What we want to put on record this evening is, we would like there to be a common access aligned with Barbie Lane.”

Gilbert said staff had been working with them and even met with them on their day off, stating, “We appreciate it.”

Lake said, “This is not the first time Walmart has done shared or ‘cross access.’ It’s a complicated process. We will continue to work with them.”

Dr. Robert Bullington also spoke during public comment and said Walmart approached his son in 2006, who told Walmart the property was not for sale.

He said, “Walmart doesn’t want any competition on our site. They don’t even want a Trader Joe’s.”

“We’re trying to negotiate the best,” said Bullington, “But we’re not going to give it away.”
Robert Bullington, Jr. spoke briefly and said his father may have overemphasized the competition issue.

Jerry Pace, who lives south of the Walmart site on 55th Street, said, “I want to know if Walmart is going to subsidize taxes of homeowners,” claiming it’s done in other parts of the country.

Responding, Lake said, “No, Walmart is not going to subsidize taxes for any private property owner,” citing it was the first time he’d ever heard that one.

Dean Phillips, an Olesen Road resident, said, “This will be my last appearance before this body. I cannot believe how this thing is going down.”

Phillips stated, “There are no concessions. There have been no agreements made. There’s no oral agreement. There’s no written agreement.”

He said the Bullingtons were getting a taste of what Walmart was about.

Phillips accused the traffic engineers of prostituting themselves out due to the amount of business they get from Walmart and called town staff underhanded.

“The whole complexion of this is flawed,” said Phillips, adding, “You’re on a really slippery slope with these guys.”

When Herb Natker requested to speak, Mayor Vincent Francia admonished him to “stay on point,” stating this was a site plan review.

Natker asked what financial commitments the town was making, if a development agreement was forthcoming and if the “out lot” (the approximately one-acre parcel purchased by Walmart along with the two 10-acre parcels currently being developed for the Walmart project) would be included in the development agreement.

Francia answered, “Yes, a development agreement with Walmart will go through the process.”

Lake stated, “We’re certainly willing to enter into a development agreement,” and noted the “out lot” would have to come before council with a separate site plan at the time a decision is made to develop that parcel.

Vice Mayor Ernie Bunch moved to approve the site plan, including the 28 conditions of approval, stating this was another step forward toward the financial security of the town.
Councilman Steve LaMar, who seconded the motion, said it was their first step toward diversifying the town’s tax base.

He also thanked the citizens of Cave Creek for attending all the meetings and coming to a valid and thoughtful conclusion.

LaMar said he was glad there was a referendum, so it wasn’t just the seven council members making the decision.

Councilman Jim Bruce took offence to comments saying staff was underhanded and said, “A big bravo to our staff. I’m glad we’re finally taking this step.”

Councilman Dick Esser said his biggest fear through all of it was that it wouldn’t happen, as he reminisced about Home Depot.

He said the people of Cave Creek were very loud and clear, citing the 75-76 percent vote in favor of Walmart.

Mozilo said the Bullingtons had a private property issue that they would have to resolve.
He said “Walmart has been honorable,” adding, “I look forward to that whole area becoming commercialized.”

Francia opened with, “This mayor’s penchant for free speech gets him in trouble sometimes.”

Francia stated he had worked with staff at town hall for the past 16 years and said there was “none better,” adding, “So, I take issue with some of the negative comments.”
Council voted unanimously to approve the site plan for Walmart.

Photo by Linda Bentley: Dr. Robert Bullington (l) and Attorney Paul Gilbert both spoke during the Walmart site plan review to suggest the town consider a common access along the Barbie Lane alignment for both the Bullington and Walmart properties.