Hello, neighbor: Walmart plan meets skeptical residents in Cottage GroveCottage Grove residents living near the proposed Walmart brought a shopping list worth of concerns to a neighborhood meeting on the project
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
Cottage Grove residents living near the proposed Walmart have a shopping list worth of concerns about the project.
Homeowners told Walmart officials they are worried about insufficient landscaping around the store, increased traffic and criminal activity, light pollution, ‘round-the-clock noise, decreased property values and other issues.
Several dozen residents turned out for the informational meeting May 1 at the Cottage Grove Ice Arena, where Walmart displayed project drawings and fielded questions on its plan to build a 177,000-square-foot Supercenter store adjacent to the Cottage View Drive-In on the east side of Highway 61 north of Keats Avenue.
“I’ll be right next door,” said Dustin Walker, whose Jeffery Avenue home is nearest the site. “I don’t want to look at it.”
Walmart was not required to hold the meeting, but company official Lisa Nelson said they want to reach out to neighbors and try to address any concerns they have as the project begins the city review process.
“We know you’re impacted; we know you’re closest to the project,” Nelson told a group of people who own homes on and near Jeffery, Jergen and Jasmine avenues. The back of the proposed store property is 200 feet from some of their homes.
Nelson said Walmart will attempt to alleviate some of their concerns, such as considering additional landscaping to serve as a buffer between their property and the store. Project officials also stressed that light pollution will not be an issue because city ordinance prohibits it and Walmart’s outdoor lighting is designed to shine only on its property.
Many of the concerns raised about the Cottage Grove project are similar to issues raised in other communities where Walmart has built, Nelson said.
Walmart’s proposal was scheduled to go before the Cottage Grove Planning Commission May 21, but after the neighborhood meeting Walmart requested a delay to address issues raised by nearby homeowners.
The store is proposed for a parcel adjacent to the Cottage Grove Drive-In. Both parcels are owned by Gerry Herringer. While the store technically would not be located on the drive-in property, a pending purchase agreement between Herringer and Walmart will allow for dirt from the drive-in site to be moved to the store site. That work is necessary to smooth out considerable elevation changes on the property.
Walmart plans to buy 22 acres from the roughly 89 acres Herringer owns on and around the drive-in site. Herringer said he would like to sell the rest of the property for future commercial development.
Herringer said in an interview that while he wants the project to go forward, the drive-in has been important to him for the more than four decades he has owned it.
“It’s not like I’m just frothing at the mouth to get rid of the theater,” he said. “It’s been a part of us for a long time.”
The recent neighborhood meeting was the first public step for Walmart’s proposal.
The city’s comprehensive plan calls for commercial development on the property, but it is zoned as residential so Walmart will need to receive a zoning change from the City Council.
City leaders have embraced Walmart’s interest, saying it will help to build commercial tax base in Cottage Grove. Mayor Myron Bailey has said when Walmart builds, other retailers follow.
Not everyone is welcoming Walmart.
“I’m against it,” said Cottage Grove resident Deb Pribyl, who went to the neighborhood meeting to learn about the project.
Pribyl said Cottage Grove has a lot of vacant storefronts in strip malls and other empty commercial spaces. Walmart could add to that, she said.
“This will take business away from the people who are already here,” she said.