Raytown paves way for Wal-Mart grocery in 3 a.m. vote

After meeting for about seven and a half hours, the the Raytown Board of Aldermen voted 6-4 early Wednesday to allow a change that paves the way for a Walmart grocery store in its downtown.

The night of impassioned speaking ended around 3 a.m. About 40 spectators a stuck it out to the bitter end.

More than 100 people had packed Raytown City Hall for the standing-room-only debate Tuesday night over whether the city should relax zoning in its central business district to accommodate a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market.

Many in the crowd expressed disappointment and anger that the city staff had blessed the plan.

Among the skeptics of the grocery store proposal was John Stegner of Raytown. Stegner objected to changing the design requirements for Wal-Mart, but not for small businesses in the downtown area.

“If it’s not the same for everybody, then it shouldn’t be anything for anybody,” he said before the public comment period started.

Terry Akins, business manager for Local Union 124 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, also went with the intention of speaking against the proposal, saying Wal-Mart has a history of low wages that ultimately would cost taxpayers money in the form of public aid.

But a 27-year Wal-Mart employee defended her employer before the aldermen, saying she’d “be happy to match my profit-sharing with anybody in this room.”

It was the second public hearing on whether the city should approve a zoning change that would allow Wal-Mart to open the grocery store on a 4.5-acre spot at 6200 Blue Ridge Blvd., in the heart of the city’s old downtown business district.

the approval, the corporation plans to proceed with its agreement to buy three small properties on the site, plus about 3.4 acres of green space owned by the city. Wal-Mart would then have to return with final design plans for another approval.

The city bought its part of the plot in 2001, after First Baptist Church moved out. The church building was torn down in 2009, and the spot has been planted in grass while the city waited for someone else to buy it.

But the land has sat vacant instead. John Benson, director of development and public affairs, said the city asked for proposals to develop the spot in 2010, but only two proposals emerged. Neither was acceptable.

Benson said groceries are permitted, even under current zoning, so the bigger issue for the city involves the design requirements calling for landscaping and setbacks. For instance, the city requires new downtown businesses to be built adjacent to the sidewalk. The 42,000-square-foot market would be set back from the sidewalk to allow for parking.

Still, the city staff recommended that the zoning be approved because Wal-Mart has demonstrated it will work with city planners on screening the parking lot and other design issues, Benson said.

“They’re not meeting all the design standards, but they’re meeting the majority of them,” he said.

Those standards were set in 2003, he said, “and we’re now 10 years later and this property is still vacant.”