Wyandotte & Leavenworth

Wal-Mart project in Shawnee worries two cities

In Bonner Springs, the Wal-Mart Supercenter makes the town hum. Residents love it.

But construction of a Wal-Mart just seven miles down the road in neighboring Shawnee has Bonner Springs residents worried that their love affair could end.

“It would be awful if Wal-Mart closed,” said Sophie Deleon-Knapp, a Bonner Springs resident, as she was about to go into the store recently. “It’s the buzz around town. We are all very concerned.”

What a difference those seven miles make.

In western Shawnee, there’s no love lost for many neighbors for their new store.

Residents of the upscale Grey Oaks subdivision staged an epic battle, spending thousands of dollars on legal fees and enlisting the help of engineers to try to stop the construction or at least to keep the traffic from flowing into their neighborhood, but they lost.

“There was nothing we could do,” said Rhonda Befort, who relocated here from Alaska in 2006.

Her home and backyard swimming pool border the construction project.

“Had we known what we know now, we would never have built in this neighborhood,” she said.

Wal-Marts are desired by many cities because of the money they generate.

But neighbors in other parts of the metro have some of the same concerns as in Shawnee. In Lee’s Summit, a group has formed to protest a supercenter. In Waldo, some neighbors fear traffic congestion from a proposed Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market.

But Wal-Marts also come and go around the metropolitan area. For example, one of Wal-Mart’s first Hypermarts across from the now-shuttered Bannister Mall was closed a few years ago with much angst to the Hickman Mills area, but about the same time a supercenter popped up on Blue Ridge in eastern Kansas City. Wal-Mart also recently bought property in the Olathe Brentwood Plaza Shopping Center for a neighborhood market.

Roeland Park residents learned last year that their beloved Wal-Mart is moving to a new location less than a mile away but across the city’s border into Mission.

Wal-Mart officials did not return phone calls or emails, so it’s difficult to know the future of the Bonner Springs store.

But officials there watched uneasily as a Wal-Mart was opened a couple of years ago at the Legends, about five miles to the northeast.

And when the new western Shawnee Wal-Mart opens later this year, it will bring the number of supercenters to five near the Kansas 7 corridor.

Bonner Springs residents and officials alike think something has to give because the area may be too populated with Wal-Marts to be profitable and they fear their store will be closed because it is the oldest.

Already, Bonner Springs officials have budgeted for a drop in income even if it stays open because they calculate they’ll lose customers, said City Manager Jack Helin.

“We’ve amended our budget this year to take into account some lost revenue,” said Helin, who acknowledged that the city has been watching the Roeland Park issue closely. “We hope that our customers who come to Bonner Springs will continue to come.”

Shawnee officials are excited about the addition of the city’s second store, this one near Kansas 7 and Johnson Drive. It means more money for the De Soto School District and hopefully more commercial development for the area, they say.

The project had been on hold for years. It was first announced in 2005, and then the recession hit in 2008, putting it off even longer. Last year, the city said Wal-Mart would reduce the size by about 45,000 square feet.

Meanwhile, as nearby residents learned about the plans to build a Wal-Mart, they cried foul. They said Rodrock, the developer, had promised a walkable community with nearby shops, doctors’ offices, a library, an assisted living facility and no supercenter. They put together a petition and pooled money to hire an attorney.

Tom Langhofer, general manager for Rodrock, had no comment.

Neighbors’ concerns, which continue today:

• Traffic would increase greatly and flow into their neighborhood, bringing in strangers.

• Residential property values would decrease.

• Prairie Ridge Elementary School would be only about three blocks from the supercenter, causing problems for children trying to navigate to and from school through the traffic.

• The store is only a block from the neighborhood community center with its swimming pool and a volleyball sand lot. Some neighbors are concerned about sending their kids to the center because of the many strangers nearby and the vehicles driving by.

When a legal challenge failed, the neighbors brought in engineers to try to get the design of the project changed so traffic would flow away from the neighborhood by blocking off streets and using other methods. But their pleas fell on deaf ears, neighbors said.

The council “rammed this through, and when we did oppose it, we didn’t really get anywhere,” said Ryan Cohoy, a resident. “Do I want a Wal-Mart in my backyard? No.”

Several neighbors said the city council failed to support them. They also said a council member was wrong when he was quoted in a newspaper article a few months ago saying neighbors embrace the project.

“We resigned ourselves to it, but I don’t think we embraced it,” Befort said. “We would move, but with the economy and all we invested in our house, we would lose too much.”

Mayor Jeff Meyers said he thought neighborhood problems had been resolved.

“I haven’t heard anything from anyone as far as the Wal-Mart project is concerned for a long, long time,” Meyers said.

And now with bulldozers at work off Kansas 7, the mayor said many in the community are waiting for the new revenue to roll in.