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Neighborhood concerns delay Cottage Grove Walmart plan

Saying city and company officials need more time to address the concerns of nearby residents, Cottage Grove planning commissioners decided again to postpone a decision on whether to recommend City Council approval of a proposed Walmart Supercenter store.

Walmart representatives at the Planning Commission's Monday, July 23, meeting asked officials to table the plan following lengthy testimony by neighbors concerned about aspects of the project. Their remarks came during a public hearing on the proposal to build a 178,000-square-foot store on a portion of the Cottage View Drive-In movie theater site along East Point Douglas Road near Keats Avenue/County Highway 19.

The decision marks the third time the Walmart plan has been delayed at the advisory review stage since it was submitted to the city in March.

Concerns about noise, the store's visual impact on surrounding homes and the impact on the surrounding roadways drove the decision to send the plan back to city planning staff for revision, officials said. Planning commissioners will again take up the proposal at the board's Aug. 27 meeting.

"That's where our efforts need to be," said Jim Rostad, chairman of the Planning Commission.

City planning staff had recommended commissioners endorse council approval of the Walmart site plan, which includes a needed re-zoning of the 22 acres Walmart has agreed to purchase from drive-in owner Gerry Herringer from a residential to commercial designation.

Residents who live nearby said the project concerns them.

"If Walmart comes in, you don't have to accept this," said neighbor Rob Stachowiak, whose Jasmine Avenue home borders the property and would sit just a few hundred feet from the store.

Stachowiak, one of more than a dozen residents to testify during the hearing, said he was concerned about a lack of a fence or noise barrier behind the store that, at its closest point, would be roughly 220 feet from the nearest neighboring residential property.

"Make them come back [with improved plans]," he continued. "They have plenty of money -- they're the biggest company in the world."

Other residents testified they were worried about a loss of privacy and 24-hour-a-day noise if the store is built.

Planning commissioners expressed anxieties of their own over the plan.

Longtime Commissioner Chris Reese said he doubted surrounding roadways could handle the influx of vehicle traffic that is projected to occur with the construction of a Walmart. A short stretch of East Point Douglas Road would be widened and turn lanes added during the first phase of road improvements in the area under a two-phase road upgrade plan laid out by city and company planners.

Walmart would foot the bill for the initial improvements, according to the proposal.

Reese, however, expressed skepticism that would be enough to cope with the 8,000 vehicle trips per day the store is projected to generate.

"I'm not necessarily opposed to this project," Reese said. "But, the traffic is a mess."