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Another Wal-Mart? Area residents flay planned West Valley store

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WEST VALLEY CITY — It's rainin' Wal-Marts on the Salt Lake Valley's west side.

So say residents in and around the southwest side of this city — and they're adamant that the mega-retailer come back another day and preferably to another place, one that's less congested.

"We like Wal-Mart," said Susan Ross, who visited one of the chain's stores two weeks ago. "We shop at Wal-Mart. But Wal-Mart does not need to be everywhere." One woman suggested locating in rapidly growing Herriman, where there's more room for a huge store.

Wal-Mart wants to build a 207,000-square-foot store on the southwest corner of 6200 South and 5600 West — Wal-Mart already has two stores in West Valley City. A Supercenter is defined by a store that also sells groceries.

About 100 opponents from Kearns, West Valley City and West Jordan protested the proposal at a Planning Commission meeting Wednesday. Lingering traffic woes prompted commissioners to vote 4-2 to postpone until March 12 a decision whether to approve a conditional use permit for Wal-Mart to build.

"I don't think the roads can handle it," Kearns resident Julie Fleming said.

Rapid growth on the Salt Lake Valley's west side and inadequate roads have local governments and the Utah Department of Transportation playing catchup to ease congestion. Both 5600 West and 6200 South leading up to the proposed store are expected to be widened, with work possibly starting this year on 6200 South.

Meanwhile, a new Wal-Mart has neighbors worried about the look of a "big box" retailer and the impact it will have on traffic and child safety. Possible lower property values, 24-hour operating times, extra noise, litter and the sale of alcohol and firearms are also giving residents the jitters.

At the urging of city officials, Wal-Mart held a public meeting last week that was anything but welcoming.

"It was not one of those meetings where you can reason together," said Joe Moore, West Valley City director of community and economic development. "It was just pure opposition — there was no middle ground."

Wal-Mart vice president of corporate affairs Bob McAdam said it's not uncommon to see this kind of protest from people who eventually become Wal-Mart customers. Wal-Mart says it's trying to do its part to mitigate concerns. "It is in our own interest to have a store that is compatible with the area."

Wal-Mart is seeking a conditional-use permit to build its third Supercenter within a five-mile radius. The West Valley City store would occupy about one-third of the 80-acre parcel under consideration. The land is already zoned commercial.

"If it isn't a Wal-Mart, it could be 40 other stores," Moore said. "This is not an unwise use of the land. It makes sense."

The conditional-use permit would allow the city to maintain some control over such things as the center's appearance, landscaping, hours of operation and parking. In moving forward the city is relying on a controversial traffic study ordered by Wal-Mart that suggests surrounding roads can handle the extra load.

"We don't have any reason to not trust this study," said West Valley City planner Ron Weibel. "The study was done by a professional engineer. We take the study as a valid traffic study." Salt Lake County will now conduct its own review of the study.

Representatives for Community First, a group that opposes the project, want another study, one they think will show that the sizes of the parking lot and store need to be reduced to lessen traffic impacts. Wal-Mart maintains that with all the growth projected on the west side, that another store will lessen the traffic on roads by reducing the distance people have to travel to shop.

Traffic isn't Fleming's only concern. She doesn't want to add one more Wal-Mart to existing stores at 5600 West and 3100 South, 5469 S. Redwood Road and at Jordan Landing along Bangerter Highway between 7000 South and 7800 South. Wal-Mart opened a 40,000-square-foot hybrid neighborhood market Wednesday in West Valley City near 4500 South and 4000 West, and more stores exist in Sandy and Midvale. Other stores are planned for downtown Salt Lake City and possibly Draper.

Fleming's fear is that another Supercenter will squeeze out the competition, including other Wal-Marts, leaving only vacant buildings. "It leaves the community with eyesores."

McAdam said Wal-Mart has not lost a Supercenter yet.

If a new Supercenter is built near her home in Kearns, Fleming said she will continue shopping at the Jordan Landing location out of protest but her husband would probably shop at the new one.

Planning commissioner Paul Nixon, a former small-business owner, offered the sobering reminder that people no longer shop at small shops and that those complaining about too many Wal-Marts are victims of their own undoing by choosing to patronize the stores.

E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com