Centerville, Utah is a small community of roughly 16,000 people a short drive from Salt Lake City. The community calls itself the “Friendly City,” but some developers have recently proposed big box plans that residents don’t find very friendly. A company called Security Investments has submitted plans for a 200,977 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter, even though the Centerville community has no less than 10 Wal-Marts within 22 miles, including 5 supercenters. Roughly 1 million square feet of supercenters exist near Centerville. The 23 acres of retail development, including a gas station, plus a parking lot holding nearly 1,000 cars, is located in a sensitive “gateway” to the community, just off I-15. The land until the summer of 2003 had been designated part of a “village center” corridor, subject to “traditional neighborhood development” (TND) standards. The city’s General Plan says the community’s need for regional commercial development has “to a great extent” been fulfilled by existing malls. The Village Plan called for “niche commercial uses, compatible with residential development.” But the Wal-Mart supercenter is anything but compatible with the 92 units of mostly retiree housing that lies only 48 feet away from the hayfield Wal-Mart wants to build on. A group called Centerville Citizens First invited me to join them in their protest against building a superstore in such an incongruous space. Armed with a new traffic study commissioned by the city, not the developer, residents pointed out that the supersized Wal-Mart would generate 16,648 car trips on a typical weekday, and 19,042 car trips on a Saturday. The traffic impact study said the traffic on the freeway ramps “would require a wider bridge across I-15,” a costly and uncertain requirement. Residents also noted that a Wal-Mart would bring no new products to the marketplace, since a Super Target and a Home Depot are located just across the road from the proposed Wal-Mart. The project must get a Conditional Use Permit, but has problems with at least 6 of the 11 factors needed to pass muster: Suitability of location; harmony with surrounding land uses; injurious to surrounding properties; economic impact on the city; aesthetic incompatibility; traffic congestion. The city has appropriated just over $17,000 to conduct an independent economic impact study, which the developer has not done at all. Citizens also want to see an independent appraisal study to measure the loss of property value that will be suffered by the County Cottage housing units that abut the site. South of the site, a developer is beginning to construct luxury homes that will have a Wal-Mart as a nightlight. Even though the city rezoned the land to “commercial very high” use, the Parrish Lane Gateway design standards call for development to be of human scale, not superhuman. The project is also supposed to be a “planned center”, but the use of two of the four parcels has not even been identified. Abuttors have hired an attorney and are prepared to go to court to prevent that city from ruining the gateway to the city with sprawling commercialism. Residents in the friendly city want a plan that is alot more friendly to the folks who already live there, and an intensity of land use that does not clash with the existing built environment.
The city is expected to review the economic impact study before considering any action on the project. That study will not be done until late June. The Mayor of Centerville told me he expects that one way or another, the city is going to be sued over this project. If the City Council does not heed groups like Centerville Citizens First, they could easily find themselves sued by their own constituents. According to the Davis County Clipper newspaper, my visit to Centerville “was like a Southern gospel revival and sermon, complete with nods, ‘yeses’ and ‘amens’.” For local contacts in Centerville, contact [email protected]