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Walmart Loses Round

Protesters and a few supporters of the proposed Walmart at Coors and Montaño showed up near the site at rush hour Monday afternoon. Here, Michele Grange, who lives about a mile from the intersection, expresses her views. (ROBERTO E. ROSALES/JOURNAL)
Protesters and a few supporters of the proposed Walmart at Coors and Montaño showed up near the site at rush hour Monday afternoon. Here, Michele Grange, who lives about a mile from the intersection, expresses her views. (ROBERTO E. ROSALES/JOURNAL)
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Planners at City Hall will recommend denial of a proposed Walmart at Coors and Montaño because the tract doesn’t have full access to nearby roads and the design isn’t pedestrian-friendly, according to a new staff report.

They also cited the project’s proximity to the bosque and the opposition of many neighborhood representatives.

The recommendation for denial comes as the city’s Environmental Planning Commission prepares for a hearing on the case at 1 p.m. Thursday in the Albuquerque Convention Center, where the meeting was moved because a large crowd is expected. The meeting is scheduled as a public hearing, which typically allows testimony from the public. The EPC could, however, decide to limit comment or set other rules for conducting the meeting.

The Walmart development team is seeking approval of plans to build a 98,900-square-foot store southeast of Coors and Montaño. Its representatives say the site is zoned properly for the store and that the project would comply with city rules.

Walmart spokesman Joshua Phair said more than 15,000 supporters signed a petition in favor of the store.

“The city of Albuquerque has approved a master development plan for this site and determined that the access and zoning are appropriate,” he said in a written statement Monday. “The current proposal before the EPC is consistent with those approved plans. We look forward to presenting the project to the EPC on behalf of our West Side customers, including over 15,000 supporters who have submitted their signatures to the city requesting approval of the store.”

The case is the first big test of Albuquerque’s “big box” ordinance, approved in 2007 to govern the development of large retail facilities. The ordinance requires “full access” to a major four-lane road, which means traffic can flow either way when exiting or entering the site.

There’s a dispute over whether this site meets the requirement. The Walmart, itself, doesn’t appear to have full access to Coors, but the larger subdivision in which it would be built has full access through Learning Road and Coors, where there is a traffic light.

City planners say in a report submitted to the EPC they don’t believe the project complies with the access requirement. They note that while the site is next to Coors and Montaño, those are “limited access” streets.

“Most of the access points are limited and the only full access point is at the intersection of Learning Road and Coors,” city planners said. “Learning Road is utilized by students entering and leaving Bosque School and by residents who live in the area.”

Walmart customers would have to travel a short distance to the south and through at least one roundabout to get to Learning Road.

The staff report isn’t binding. The EPC – an appointed body – will hear testimony Thursday and make its own decision.

The EPC vote, in turn, can be appealed to the City Council and, eventually, state District Court.

About a dozen West Side neighborhood leaders opposed to the project have been meeting each week for a year in the Taylor Ranch Community Center. They say the proposal has citywide implications because it centers, in part, on how the “big box” ordinance will be interpreted and because it would sit near an already-congested river crossing.

In a recent meeting, Dan Shaw, secretary of the Taylor Ranch Neighborhood Association, said he and others support development generally, but not this proposal in particular.

“Someone’s trying to put a 10-gallon development in a 5-gallon bucket,” he said. “It just doesn’t work.”

Supporters say the West Side needs more jobs and shopping opportunities, which the Walmart would provide.

The formal applicant for the project is Silver Leaf Ventures LLC, a company associated with Jason Daskalos, a local developer who has completed projects throughout Albuquerque.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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