West Kendall, Florida is a suburb of Miami-Dade County. Tomorrow evening, May 12, 2009, the West Kendall Community Council will take up a request from Wal-Mart Stores East to expand its discount store #1680 located at SW 88th Street. This is the continuation of a hearing that began at the Council’s April 2 meeting. Wal-Mart wants to convert its discount store, which is currently 117,847 s.f., into a superstore with 177,126 s.f. This increase of roughly 60,000 s.f. represents a 34% increase in store size. According to the Miami Herald, the new site plan for the project would push the project to within 56 feet of nearby residential properties. The superstore would have an uncovered garden center surrounded only by fencing. The Chairwoman of the Community Council, Patricia Davis, told the Miami Herald that she is concerned about the project expansion because the parking capacity of the store is not increasing. Community Councils were created as part of Miami-Dade County government to make zoning and land use decisions in a setting more accessible to the community. Community Councils are the advisory liaisons to the Board of County Commissioners. Each council is comprised of six members elected by the community and one appointed by the County Commissioners. Councils meet once a month to discuss zoning matters. Wal-Mart East has submitted a revised site plan to the Council, showing an addition to their existing building, and an expansion of their outdoor sales areas. Wal-Mart wants a waiver to the county’s zoning regulations, which require all uses to be conducted within enclosed buildings. Wal-Mart needs a waiver because they want their garden center to be without walls, with only a fence and wind-screening. County staff at the Department of Planning and Zoning are recommending the waiver. 214 protests were filed against the plan.
Residents in West Kendall, Florida who are addicted to cheap, Chinese merchandise, already have their Wal-Mart on SW 88th street. There is also a Wal-Mart discount store a few miles away on NW 13th Terrace in Miami, and a Wal-Mart superstore a short drive away in Hialeah Gardens. Rather than encroaching further on nearby homes, Wal-Mart East could simply take its existing discount store and convert it into a supercenter, without adding a single square foot — including the enclosed garden center. This is called an “in-box conversion,” and is being done to avoid the messy permitting battles that happen when Wal-Mart tries to expand to the detriment of its neighbors. In this case, Wal-Mart is already in a dense urban environment, and its store — two times the size of a football field — would add another space the size of a football field. Naturally, the people already living in the neighborhood are not too pleased with the idea, and will fight it to the County Commissioners. This is not an economic development project for West Kendall, because the jobs and sales taxes it will bring are already in the area at other merchants. The addition of a garden center and grocery component will transfer sales from existing businesses, and add no value to the bottom line economic picture. Wal-Mart can side step this controversy, and avoid another unpleasant encounter with upset residents, by announcing that it will do an in-box conversion and leave the neighbors alone. As it stands now, the additional traffic brought to the site — which will mean more cars more often — is having to fit in the same size parking lot. Superstores, because of their grocery component, attract shoppers more frequently than discount stores. The resulting traffic problems will further tie up the site and erode home values along the way. Readers are urged to cut and paste this article to the West Kendall Community Council Chair, Patricia Davis, at http://www.miamidade.gov/infocenter/contact.asp, urging her to reject the Wal-Mart expansion, and insist that the company do an in-box conversion instead of this disruptive, and inharmonious expansion.