By West Louisville Talks
Since the announcement of Wal-Mart’s interest in the former Phillip Morris property at 18th and Broadway, we have actively sought opportunities for community residents, potential employees and future shoppers to engage with The Mardrian Group (TMG), developer/property owner, Metro Council members, Louisville Metro economic development officials, and Wal-Mart representatives about the project.
Our efforts to unsuccessfully bring said parties to the table and the formal development processes of the Louisville Metro Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BOZA) that followed eventually led us to filing a lawsuit that challenges the composition of the Planning Commission and subsequently the decisions of the commission to grant Wal-Mart design exemptions from the Land Development Code (LDC).
We believe the Louisville community for 15 years has missed the opportunity to develop the property to its highest and best use after Phillip Morris gifted the land to the City of Louisville. Local government officials and separately a local investment team were unsuccessful at recruiting a big-box retailer to the site. TMG later acquired the property and developed a mixed-use plan that included work-live units along 18th Street where there will soon be a YMCA, only to be unable to secure the necessary capital. At no time has there been any publicly sponsored meeting to discuss potential plans or seek input from area residents. Our belief is that the lack of community engagement is the reason previous plans never came to fruition.
Despite all that had passed, TMG and Wal-Mart began negotiating a development agreement in which the company would purchase most of the 23 acres – contingent upon Louisville Metro Government granting the company variances and waivers for design elements that would largely impact how people and vehicular and truck traffic move about the site. Wal-Mart sought to 1) limit the amount of windows and omit an 18th Street entrance, 2) build the store 394 feet from Broadway (beyond the 25-foot maximum), and 3) maximize the number of parking spaces.
Upon submission of Wal-Mart’s plan, Louisville Metro Planning and Design staff counseled the company that its design did not comply with the Land Development Code. The Planning Commission asked Wal-Mart to submit additional development plans that would bring the store closer to the street and decrease the amount of asphalt and parking – issues many opponents spoke about during the hearings – but it neglected to do so.
Wal-Mart and its supporters contended there was no other way to build the store that would maximize its profits and therefore offered no alternative. We partnered with Neighborhood Planning & Preservation Inc. and worked with local architects and land use attorney Stephen Porter to create an alternative plan. Our plan placed commercial buildings on the out-lots along Broadway, decreasing the number of parking spots and distance between the street and stores in compliance with the city’s codes.
The alternative plan was barely considered during the Planning Commission and BOZA hearings, and both concluded by granting Wal-Mart the requested waivers and variances.
We want to be clear that we support the development of a Wal-Mart store at 18th and Broadway. We support west Louisville residents’ and its visitors’ access to retail options and understand the need for jobs. In addition to challenging the illegal make-up of the Planning Commission, at the heart of what we are seeking are inclusive community engagement processes to shape west Louisville economic and community development projects and policy.
We are dismayed that at every effort to engage decision-makers we have been ignored and that our elected officials would commit millions in public funds without discussing any aspect of the project with the west Louisville community who overwhelmingly supports the project! We are confident that had the community been engaged, an alternative development plan would have been created – one that meets the Land Development Code, creates an innovative, urban design, manages various modes of travel, and inspires the future development we all know will follow.
West Louisville Talks seeks to create opportunities for west Louisville residents to discuss pertinent community issues and encourage people to become active citizens to improve conditions in west Louisville. Contact WLT at [email protected]