East side discusses Wal-Mart possibility


Published: Friday, January 21, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 21, 2005 at 12:14 a.m.
Traffic concerns and hopes for economic development dominated a Thursday night meeting between residents of Gainesville's east side, local Wal-Mart representatives and city officials.
The meeting, which brought about 100 people to the Duval Elementary's multipurpose center, was organized by City Commissioner Chuck Chestnut to discuss the concerns of neighborhoods near a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter site at Waldo Road and NE 12th Avenue.
Chestnut and other officials, including state Rep. Ed Jennings, D-Gainesville, said the event should be just the first of many meetings between residents and the Bentonville, Ark., retailer.
"This is our time," Jennings said. "Sit down and say, 'This is what I want.' "
While almost all the residents who spoke at the meeting said they hoped to see a supercenter built in east Gainesville, most also expressed concern about the impact the center would have on the already strained roads in the city's Duval and Cedar Grove neighborhoods. Speakers said they already had difficulties traveling to and from Cedar Grove II, a city-developed neighborhood on NE 12th Avenue.
Many said they feared the traffic from the entrances and exits of the store on NE 12th Avenue would exacerbate these problems. Because of state restrictions on the East Gainesville Rail Trail, the store would be unable to have entrances or exits on Waldo Road, said Teresa Scott, interim assistant city manager and director of the city's public works department.
Quenta Vettel, a local Wal-Mart representative, said questions about the traffic situation were expected. Representatives of the retailer met earlier this week with city staff to discuss traffic issues.
A number of residents expressed excitement about the project, which they said could help bring economic development to east Gainesville, and many said they appreciated the opportunity to provide input into the process.
Others worried about not nailing down the location for Wal-Mart.
"If Wal-Mart doesn't go through, I really believe we will never have any more economic development in east Gainesville," said Brian Word, who lives in the Duval neighborhood.
Other problems, including noise and the quality of potential jobs at the supercenter, were also brought up.
Wal-Mart representatives brought the east Gainesville supercenter plan to commissioners in October after the commission rejected a proposal for a more expansive complex at the intersection of NW 53rd Avenue and U.S. 441 because of concerns about environmental features at the site. Wal-Mart is simultaneously exploring a proposal floated by city officials that would swap Gainesville's Northside Park at NW 34th Street and U.S. 441 for the NW 53rd Avenue property. A supercenter would be built on the 30-acre 34th Street property and Wal-Mart would be responsible for improvements at the 90-acre 53rd Avenue site to make up for the lost recreational space.
Though approval of a supercenter on the Waldo Road property would be relatively easy, Vettel said construction would not begin until both the east side site and the more complicated and controversial Northside Park site were approved.
Wal-Mart representatives have said the earliest the supercenter proposals would come before the City Commission for approval would be December.
Jeff Adelson can be reached at (352) 374-5095 or adelsoj@gvillesun.com.

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