First, you see them, now you don’t.
Walmart Stores Inc. has backed off again from plans to build a new grocery store in Dardenne Prairie at the northwest corner of Bryan and Feise Roads, after reviving plans for the store in February. Walmart had pulled back on earlier plans for a similar store last July.
Delays in obtaining needed curb cuts off Bryan Road from neighboring O’Fallon may have contributed to Walmart’s decision to back away a second time, Dardenne Prairie Mayor David Zucker said along with representatives from the Cora Bopp Family Limited Partnership, which owns the intended development site.
Feise Road is in Dardenne Prairie; Bryan Road is controlled by O’Fallon. Each city, respectively, controls access off their roads.
“I have said that if we had not had so much difficulty getting access to Bryan Road – curb cuts – I think Walmart would have been under construction,” Zucker said. “So we wouldn’t have lost them.”
But an O’Fallon official said its planning officials didn’t receive a requested traffic study from the partnership, used to help determine the location of curb cuts, until July 27 after requesting it this spring.
Tom Drabelle, O’Fallon’s communications director, said on April 11 that the study had a note on it that Walmart was backing out of the store.
Zucker said the partnership still doesn’t have the green light from O’Fallon but he’s optimistic. “I am somewhat encouraged in my recent conversations with [O’Fallon] Mayor [Bill] Hennessy that a reasonable solution can be had. I am disappointed that this has taken so long and we still haven’t gotten it resolved.”
Drabelle said the city is expected to schedule a meeting with the partnership and Dardenne Prairie representatives soon.
Gary Feder, an attorney representing the partnership, agreed that the lack of progress on curb cuts probably was an influence on Walmart. He said changes in leadership at Walmart and Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, another national grocery chain, also may have been a contributing factor in deciding whether to open more Walmart Neighborhood Market grocery stores around the country. The store is smaller than Walmart Supercenters and competing supermarkets.
The Dardenne Prairie store would have been the third Walmart Neighborhood Market recently opened in St. Charles County – two have opened in St. Peters.
Officially, Walmart hasn’t given city officials a reason for reconsidering the store. “Nothing but a phone call,” Zucker said.
Walmart officials have not responded so for with any comment. They also didn’t offer a detailed explanation for their first back out from the proposal last July. Walmart’s earlier pullout came after months of review and discussion of the development of the property and the market.
In February, Walmart officials announced they were back with the proposal for the grocery store and a gas station and in March the city’s Board of Aldermen approved a rezoning change to C-2 planned unit development with conditional uses. The approvals involve a 15.79-acre portion of 86.5 acres, known as the Bopp tract, owned by the partnership. Walmart’s store would have been located on about six acres of the 15.79-acre portion of the tract. There are no specific plans approved much of the 86.5 acres.
Meanwhile, discussions to work out the curb cut locations continues. Two cuts have been discussed – one along Feise Road and another on the west side of Bryan Road across from a slight curb cut near the CVS Pharmacy. The cuts will determine the traffic signals needed. “They [the curb cuts] are vital to the future of the development,” Feder said.
The partnership will begin road work on-site and perhaps look toward developing a residential component on the western part of the 86.5-acre property. “This is an attractive site,” Feder said.
Zucker said the partnership putting in interior roads “is a major commitment” that will make the property more attractive to developers. “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if builders wouldn’t relish the opportunity to develop in Dardenne Prairie, which is closer in,” Zucker said.
Still, the loss of a development like the Walmart Neighborhood Market isn’t something city officials take lightly. The new store was set to provide the city considerable sales tax revenue – as much as $300,000 annually, according to a city consultant.
Sale tax revenue is a major source of funding for local municipalities, which city officials point out to their residents. “We can educate the public,” Zucker said, “we can’t campaign.”