No date has yet been set for the meeting, which was called by Mayor Bob Taylor in response to growing concern over the possibility that a Walmart store could be headed for the Sciortino Ranch property on Brentwood Boulevard at Sand Creek Road. No application has yet been received by the city, but discussions have been held between the mega-retailer, the city and the property owner, New Urban Community Partners.
Representatives of the property owner could not be reached for comment on this story.
One of the largest remaining undeveloped parcels in the city, the 65-acre Sciortino Ranch was zoned for a mix of commercial, residential, office and park uses as part of the Brentwood Boulevard Specific Plan adopted in 2005. The zoning and the city’s General Plan were amended in 2009, increasing the square footage allowable for commercial development, among other changes. Previously restricted to stores of less than 75,000 square feet, the new zoning could accommodate more than 200,000 square feet of retail, enough for a Super Walmart or other retail giant.
But a growing number of residents and businesspeople are opposed to locating any big-box on the property, saying such a store would kill off many of the smaller, mom-and-pop establishments, especially in the downtown area about a mile away. Those businesses help give the city its small-town charm, they say, so they have begun the process of placing a referendum on the ballot seeking to return the property to its 2005 zoning.
“We’d rather bring it back to the council and change it there than spend $75,000 on an election,” said Sayra Flores, who’s helping organize the potential referendum. Flores said the group believes a full-scale environmental impact report should have been done at the time of the rezone to address traffic concerns associated with big-box retailers, as well as possible “urban decay” caused by a giant, discount retailer such as Walmart.
On Monday, about two dozen members of the rapidly growing group gathered at a local restaurant to discuss the situation. Members hail from all across the city, as well as nearby communities.
In addition to the economic impacts, the group is concerned that a discount retailer located on Brentwood Boulevard would unfairly concentrate low-end uses along Brentwood Boulevard. A recently approved low-income housing project near the intersection of Sunset Road is another indication that the “grand boulevard” plan adopted for the city’s northern entrance is not translating into brick and mortar.
“We’ve always been treated as a second-class neighborhood,” said Madlynn Krebs, owner of SpeeDee Oil Change & Tune-up, located across the street from Sciortino Ranch. “If they want a Walmart, fine. Build it in Shadow Lakes” in the southwest part of the city, she said.
According to Brentwood Community Development Director Casey McCann, the current zoning of the property allows the construction of a big-box retailer by right, and would be subject only to a design review process if and when an application is received. That process is meant to make sure the “feel, fit and finish” of the guidelines established for the property are met.
According to McCann, a limited environmental review of the project would also be conducted at that time to “confirm the assumptions” made during earlier environmental reviews. New, significant information could trigger a full-blown environmental impact report that could take up to nine months and cost as much as $100,000.
None of the reviews, however, can consider the corporate name associated with a possible project, McCann added.
In calling the special council meeting, Taylor said he was making sure that the council is “up to speed on what we can and cannot do” with regard to big-box stores in general, and on the Sciortino Ranch in particular. He hopes to avoid any mistakes that could end up in court, he said, acknowledging that the issue is a sensitive one.
“I’ve got people who tell me they want a Walmart, that they like the idea,” he said. “This is not one-sided.”