LINCOLN — Take a drive to the outskirts of southwest Lincoln, to the intersection of Highway 77 and West Denton Road. Here, in the middle of cornfields is a four-lane road with a brick median, new traffic signals overhead and a brand new double roundabout to the north.
But the traffic signal is covered up and there are no cars using that roundabout, which is overrun with weeds. And the road that was supposed to lead to a brand new Walmart Supercenter is barricaded and home to discarded tires, plastic water bottles and beer bottles. All of this infrastructure work — and more beneath ground — was done to pave the way for a commercial development called Southwest Village – which was to be anchored by a Walmart Supercenter. Except the village never sprang up.
It is Lincoln’s own road to nowhere. The developer was unable to get the project off the ground after Wal-Mart backed out of a purchase agreement, and the city of Lincoln was left on the hook for about $4 million in infrastructure work.
Now, nearly five years after Wal-Mart backed out of the project, the company wants to build a Supercenter four miles to the southeast in a more populated area where it would be bordered by homes on three sides, and where neighbors are strongly opposed to the store.
Neighbors are up in arms – they’ve held meetings, signed petitions, written city officials and lobbied Wal-Mart officials, to no avail. The new location on 27th Street and Grainger Parkway is zoned properly and perfectly legal, so despite heavy community resistance, there’s virtually nothing city officials can do to stop Wal-Mart from opening up shop there.
Neighbors have loudly expressed their opinion that Wal-Mart should be a good neighbor and consider a different location – like Southwest Village, where the store attracted far less opposition from neighbors, primarily because there were so few of them.
Southwest Village was first proposed seven years ago by Dial Realty of Omaha, which had grand plans for three big box stores, restaurants, townhouses and a couple of hotels. Stores were expected to open in 2007 at the earliest. The city had no plans to upgrade the roads or sewers in the area for years, so to speed up the process, the developer offered to pay for the infrastructure work and get reimbursed by the city down the road.
Then in late 2007, Wal-Mart backed out, citing a national pullback on building new stores – and Lincoln was left holding the bag. The city reimbursed Dial Realty $1.2 million for water lines that don’t connect to any houses and is obligated to reimburse the developer nearly $2 million in road improvements in 2018.
Lincoln found itself spending precious street repair dollars to fix Denton Road, which had been torn up with plans for the developer to replace the curving road. A quarter-mile stretch of the road was closed, and 3,000 vehicles per day were being sent on a detour that residents complained was unsafe, requiring them to virtually stop on a 55 mph road.
Mayor Chris Beutler agreed to fix the road at a cost of about $800,000 in badly needed road funds. The hope was that the money would be reimbursed with developer impact fees. But since the project never came to fruition, there were no impact fees generated, Public Works Director Miki Esposito said. The water main was paid for with water impact fees collected from other nearby developments, according to Esposito.
And so today Southwest Village sits empty — home to grasshoppers, birds and corn – as Wal-Mart forges forward with plans to build four miles away.
Last Monday, the Lincoln City Council tried to send a message to Wal-Mart expressing its displeasure over the company’s refusal to consider an alternative location by rejecting a liquor license application for a separate Sam’s Club on the other side of town. Council members said there was little else they could do to get Wal-Mart’s attention.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Delia Garcia told Nebraska Watchdog the Southwest Village site wasn’t prepared just for Wal-Mart, but to anchor a larger development that fell apart due to a variety of issues. It doesn’t make sense to build a stand-alone store there, she said.
“Wal-Mart was to be a tenant among many others in the power center,” she said. “It was not prepared for Wal-Mart, it was prepared for the developer.”
The 27th Street location is “ideal for serving south Lincoln,” Garcia said, because it’s on a busy commercial corridor and has been zoned commercial for more than a decade. She said Wal-Mart intends to address neighbors’ lighting, noise and traffic concerns.
So is Wal-Mart committed to going forward, despite the opposition?
“Yes,” she said. “We’re committed to serving our customers.”
Reported by Deena Winter, email@example.com
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