Residents await north Bossier Walmart decision

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EDITOR’S NOTE: As of press time, the city council meeting’s second reading of the annexation was yet to be voted on. The MPC’s next scheduled meeting is June 13 at 2 p.m.

Sean Green | sean@thebiztools.com

Bossier residents are awaiting a decision on locating a new Walmart Supercenter store just north of Bossier City on Wemple Road and Airline Drive.

The new store, which would be located just three miles from the current Supercenter on Airline Drive in Bossier City, has caused a stir among parish residents about placing the large retailer so closely to residential properties.

The debate dates all the way back to last September when the proposal was initially introduced and eventually faltered. It began anew early last month when the Bossier City/Parish Metropolitan Planning Commission was to vote on a zoning change — from residential agriculture to general business — for a Walmart Supercenter and fueling station at the same location as originally proposed.

The MPC heard plans on May 9 in a preliminary hearing from a civil engineer hired by Walmart. Civil Engineer Kainen Leblanc presented Walmart’s plans, “They are looking to capture the growth that is happening north of I-220,” he said.

Community members showed up enforce to speak against the rezoning, just as they did last September. Even politicians, such as State Representative Mike Johnson and Bossier Parish Police Juror Jack Skaggs, both encouraged the MPC to vote “no” to the rezoning or consider a compromise.

Skaggs said he represents constituents in that district and has done his best to represent their concerns, saying, “They take the lead, they are very passionate about it and speak from the heart. My approach was to give examples of why you should not approve it, and the next prong was if you do feel you need to pass this, we need to look at compromises.”

He said the negative impacts on residents’ quality of life are what has been brought up to him, which are the crime rate, declining property values, and increase in traffic.

“The number one concern is traffic. Airline Drive is already busy and Airline and Wemple is congested in the morning. Now, you’re going to have 18-wheeler traffic making deliveries as well as more car traffic,” said Skaggs. “The number two concern is the crime — people are fearful of shoplifting. And the other major one is property values. There is research on both sides, but there are forums and blogs from other communities who have been through this and show there’s an effect from it. I’ve had people tell me they’re selling their home and are told buyers won’t buy the home because Walmart is coming there. I’ve had a constituent tell me realtors told her to reduce the price of her home by 10 percent.”

The MPC did not make a decision to change the zoning law to make way for the store citing Walmart’s request for more time to be able to bring the MPC more options, such as the possibility of the store not operating 24-hours/day.

The plot thickened when the City of Bossier City Council voted at their May 17 meeting on the first reading to annex the 99-acre plot of land for the development. The council has been proactive with the fear that the existing store could be shuttered, meaning Bossier City would lose millions of dollars in sales tax.

Bossier City Public Information Officer Mark Natale said he couldn’t disclose how big of a hole that would leave in sales tax collections as it’s illegal to disclose that information. However, he said it would equate to roughly two dozen positions with public safety.

“A portion of all sales tax revenues are put into the general fund, which a large portion of goes towards public safety,” Natale clarified.

However, when the MPC board asked Leblanc if the current Walmart on Airline Drive will close if the new Walmart is built, he said, “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.”

“(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,” said Natale.

David “Rocky” Rockett, director of the Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation, said he doesn’t believe the Airline Drive store would close.

“If you listen to the MPC hearing, their personnel said the Airline Drive store is one of their highest earning stores in their chain, so I do not think you would have a situation without having one store remain.”

The Walmart seemed all but a certainty last September until a public uproar developed over the city council voting to annex 99 acres where the store would go. The city council then, only weeks later, moved to reverse the annexation. The council was also one vote away from approving $3.6 million for the construction of streets, road and drainage improvements for the proposed development. However, that vote did not happen.

Back in September, a petition against the store appeared on change.org. As of press time, more than 2,000 people had signed the petition.

“If you look at a mile and two mile population radius and look at the number of people who singed the petition, it’s well over a majority,” Skaggs added. “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.”

This story was originally published in the June edition of BIZ. Magazine. To read more from BIZ., visit www.bizmagsb.com