LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The debate over a new Walmart store in the west end intensified Friday night. A meeting was held for residents to voice their support, or their concerns.
Developers want to build a suburban design for the supercenter, but some residents want an urban look. It was clear from the meeting, the group has their work cut out for them. The biggest hurdle seems to be getting the city, the developers, and Walmart to pay attention.
Not everyone is on board with a Walmart in the west end, but if it’s going to be there, residents want a say in how it looks and functions in their community.
Opinions were overflowing in the gym at West Chestnut Baptist Church.
“It shouldn’t be a Walmart, it should be an entertainment district. You know, movie theater, bowling alley, restaurants,” Toby Jones, who lives up the block from the site said.
Donald Duncan, another resident, welcomes the big box store.
“I want Walmart to come to the west end,” he said, “I just want them to be responsible enough for the needs of the people who don’t have transportation.”
These residents are desperate to be a part of the decision making process as the plans for the store on the corner of Broadway and 18th move forward. The meeting was organized by Reverend Gerome Sutton with the Louisville Think Tank and other west end non-profit groups. But, who was there to hear them?
Two chairs, one reserved for Walmart, one for the city, both sat empty. “Walmart never returned our calls after several attempts of calls, emails, things of that nature,” organizer Haven Harrington said, president of the Concerned Association of Russell Residents group.
He said they emailed and called city officials as well.
“They had said they would be here, then today, at the last minute, they said that they would not be here,” Harrington said.
It was a frustrating start to what’s sure to be a long fight. But, it was a start. The main focus seems to be the look of the building; whether the storefront should be up, close to the sidewalk and street, or set back, separated by a large parking lot, a more suburban design.\
“Now, people want to be a part of the process. They weren’t a part of the process during the negotiations, now they’re saying at least, can we at least have a say so in what that product is going to look like in our community and how we engage that building,” Cassia Herron said, a member of the panel at the meeting.
The group is strong, not in numbers, but in conviction, in a desire to know what decisions are being made about their neighborhood and begging their city to open a seat for them at the decision making table. In the words of Rev. Sutton, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.
Louisville’s Land Development Code says buildings in urban settings must be as close to the sidewalk as possible, citing the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and bus riders. But, it’s also about creating a certain type of look, one that would set the tone for the development of the rest of the West Broadway Corridor. The developers have applied for a variance to the code.
Former city planner Charlie Cash said 96 percent of variance applications are approved by the city.
The group has set another meeting for the second Friday in July.