Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

TOP STORY >>Wal-Mart meets with residents

Leader staff writer

“You can just take your crap and move it a mile and a half down to North Hills,” said Sherwood resident Jim Ball at a meeting Thursday night with Wal-Mart officials.

Mayor Virginia Hillman had asked for the meeting, held at the Bill Harmon Recreation Center, because of the number of complaints and concerns about the construction of the new supercenter at Maryland Avenue and Hwy. 107.

Ball and his wife Jean live in a small neighborhood on Tiffany Circle and their backyard adjoins the Wal-Mart property. They have spent most of the summer staring at dirt and more dirt.

Most of the 50-plus residents left the meeting early when their requests for a wall to be built between the Wal-Mart and their residential property fell on deaf years. Once people started to leave, Wal-Mart spokesman, Laurie Smalling and other company officials backed off and said they would see what could be done.

Smalling started the meeting by telling the crowd she understands that they have been inconvenienced “by a little dust and noise.”

“That’s the understatement of the year,” shouted a concerned resident from the back of the room.

Ben Rounsaville tried to explain to Smalling, two lawyers, a market manager, the construction manager and the engineer that residents want a wall for security and privacy. “We’ve endured the dirt, the blasting, the noise and all we are asking for is this wall,” he said.

Engineer Casey Wilder said the approved plan called for a buffer of trees for part of the area that residents were concerned about. The other portion, he said, was not owned by Wal-Mart, but by Doyle Roger Co., and Wal-Mart could not do anything to property that wasn’t theirs, even though they have cleared and leveled all the Doyle Roger’s land.

“You have totally destroyed the value of our property,” said Pres Brailsford. “Do you want to buy our homes? I know you don’t want to listen.”

Smalling told the group that Wal-Mart was not going to be able to put up a wall. “I know that doesn’t make you happy. But we cannot do that,” she said.

One resident responded, “You have no respect, no concern for anyone out there. You are spending millions to widen the road, but you can’t afford a wall?”

JoAnna St. Clair, who moved into the area just before the construction crews cut down all the trees behind her property, said, “I can wash a lot of cars, and we can raise the money and build our own wall. We’ll die waiting for Wal-Mart to do something.”
As the meeting progressed, people grumbled “boycott” and began to leave, the Wal-Mart team softened and said that a wall could be built, but something else on the project would have to be scaled back or eliminated to cover the cost.

“This is one of the most expensive properties we are working on,” Smalling said, adding that the cost of rock removal and upgrading the facade of the building at the request of the residents had added to the cost already.

Clay Moore, the construction manager, explained that at this point the cost of the project was locked in and could not be changed, adding a wall would mean something has to be subtracted.

The team promised to work with city officials to determine the cost of different types of walls and project components that could be eliminated to cover the cost. The team said they should have suggestions ready in about three weeks.

Moore also told the audience that the blasting work was completed and said a lot of the problems would lessen as the project nears completion.