The Bossier City Council’s vote to rezone the land for the future site of the store at Wemple Road and Airline Drive means the major retailer can begin construction.
City officials have heard from resident opposition every stop of the way, including the final step at its Tuesday, Sept. 6 meeting. Residents near the proposed site wanted the council to reject the Bossier Metropolitan Commission’s favoring the rezoning of the land from Residential/Agriculture (R/A) to B-3.
The process to rezone the land for the Walmart has come under fire for almost a year. It was first proposed last September and was beaten back over residents’ concerns of traffic, crime, and a decrease in home values.
In May, the issue resurfaced and the City Council annexed the 99-acre plot in a measure to protect their sales tax collections. The proactive move was made out of concern over the existing store on Airline Drive, a mere three miles from the new site, could be shuttered.
City officials said this would cause a hole the size of millions of dollars in sales tax. Bossier City Public Information Officer Mark Natale previously told the Bossier Press-Tribune he couldn’t disclose the exact amount due to state law, but said it would equate to funding roughly two dozen positions with public safety (i.e. fire and police officers).
“(That’s the reason for) the annexation issue, because we don’t want to lose that sales tax if the Walmart on Airline Drive closes. Walmart said they’re not going to do that, but we don’t want take that chance,” Natale previously told the Bossier Press-Tribune.
Walmart officials have maintained the entire time that both stores will be in operation. That was reiterated at the recent meeting with officials saying the Airline Drive store is in the top five performing stores statewide.
“…That store will never close. They’ve stated in public multiple times they have no plans to close that store,” MPC Director Sam Marsiglia assured the council.
Civil Engineer Kainen Leblanc of Duplantis Design Group, has represented Walmart throughout the process and maintained at previous meetings, “These are completely separate deals for Walmart tracts…these are completely separate markets, they are looking to capture the growth that has been on the north side of I-220.”
Regardless, residents have been very clear and vocal about their concerns and have pleaded with the MPC to not recommend the rezoning and asked the Council to officially vote it down.
Bossier Parish Police Juror Jack Skaggs even went before the city council on behalf of the residents, as they are not a part of the city and have no representation.
“People feel like they are being imposed upon and have no vote in the matter. So I think that’s another frustration — imposition without representation,” Skaggs previously told the Bossier Press.
Opposition spokesperson Kayte Hollowell previously told the MPC that they “should be concerned with the welfare of the people and the community’s feelings,” while Renee Sawyer also accused the MPC of “selling out” the residents and being “greedy.”
Resident Kyle Sawyer passionately addressed the council at its last meeting and told how the existing Walmart store recently had an incident of a purse snatching of a 70-year-old woman and said, “that sort of thing happens and will go on near where we live.”
His sentiments were echoed by Howard Davis, Providence Classical Academy headmaster, saying, “If you don’t think (crime) is going to affect this store, you’re playing games with yourself.”
Sawyer went on to say the roads won’t be able to handle the increased traffic, “Not everyone is going to go down Airline…They’re going to take the path of least resistance.”
In response to these concerns, Walmart has made several concessions. These include $200,000 to go towards the widening of Wemple Road, an 18-hour operation time instead of the usual 24-hour, a school zone for Providence Classical Academy on Wemple road, landscaping, alternative routes to direct truck traffic off Wemple Road, and a fence in the rear of the store facing residential developments.
More importantly, Neil Erwin, special legal counsel for the city regarding this issue, told the council Walmart would be bound to make the proposed concessions. He said that when Walmart made a site plan and the rezoning approval is conditional upon that plan, Walmart will have to perform those improvements or come back before city council as the approval would be void.
Bossier City Attorney Jimmy Hall said during the recent meeting that this opposition is a “specific attack on Walmart” generated by reasons that “border on arbitrary and capricious.”
“There’s a lot of things we approve that people don’t like. This seems to be specific to Walmart,” Hall summarized.
So, with it all but a formality now, what is the next step?
First up, officials will begin making $3.6 million worth of investments on the property, with $1.6 M of that going specifically to road improvements. There is no timeline yet for this to begin.
The new Walmart store will also look to hire approximately 300-350 employees.