Grand Haven WalMart Has Different Look

February 10, 2006
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GRAND HAVEN TOWNSHIP — After three years of discussion, plans for a Wal-Mart Supercenter are taking shape, but it won’t be the familiar blue and gray.

Instead of the “battleship” style for which Wal-Mart has become known, the proposed 178,590-square-foot “colonial-style” supercenter would blend in more with other stores in the area. It also will be all but hidden from the busy U.S. 31.

Roderick Scott, Wal-Mart senior manager of public affairs, said using a different look for the stores has been going on for two or three years.

“The customer is much more savvy than they once were,” he said. “We want to give our customers the best store that we can. … This is being custom tailored for this community.”

The 24-acre parcel optioned by Wal-Mart is located across the street from a Meijer Inc. store and currently is zoned as agricultural. Rezoning the land as a commercial planned unit development has been under consideration by the township, and Township Supervisor Bill Cargo said officials are recommending approval of the plan.

“They’ve complied with every requirement that’s been laid out for them,” he said. “Michigan is a property rights state, so it would be difficult for us to deny them when they are compliant.”

Cargo said having a new Wal-Mart store would mean that residents won’t have to travel to the Muskegon, Holland or Grand Rapids locations.

“We have a population base of about 50,000 and we have only one big box store,” he said. “Obviously, given the growth of this area, we could support two big box stores.”

Cargo said he’s not surprised Wal-Mart chose this parcel.

“They base their decision of location on the same criteria,” Cargo said of Wal-Mart and Meijer. “To have them across the street from each other isn’t at all unusual.”

When asked by the Business Journal what he thought of building a Wal-Mart so close to an existing Meijer location, Scott agreed with Cargo.

“It has been said, and I think it is true, that competition makes all business better,” he said.

Though some residents have voiced opposition to the supercenter for fear local stores will close, Cargo said the downtown stores have a niche market that would be unaffected.

He used Borr’s Bootery as an example.

“People who buy their boots or shoes at Borr’s Bootery are not going to buy their shoes at Wal-Mart,” he said. “Meijer and Wal-Mart don’t sell those types of higher-end products.”

Cargo said the township looks at the “three C’s” when considering a new development: consistency, compatibility and capability.

Wal-Mart meets all those criteria, he said. It is consistent with the area and the master plan; it is compatible with a Meijer store and the light industrial area; and the area is capable of supporting the store, with most of the necessary infrastructure already in place. Any infrastructure issues such as traffic signals, storm drains and road size will be capable of supporting the store after Wal-Mart makes some improvements.

Though aspects of Wal-Mart’s practices, history and standards may not be a part of the discussions about land-use, those aspects may play a role in whether people decide to shop at the store, Cargo said.

“If they meet every requirement and we deny them, we would be liable for multimillion-dollar lawsuits,” he said. “That’s why the planning process is so important.”

Scott said the lengthy process in getting the Wal-Mart built is due in part to regulatory issues dealing with wetlands on the property.

“We’re going to be preserving wetlands to a large degree on the site,” he said.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality requires that any more than one-third acre of wetland disturbed be mitigated or replaced. There are a variety of ratios used to determine how many acres need to replace the disturbed area. The site of the proposed Wal-Mart is not a high-priority wetland, as it is a linear wetland formed from a former storm-water drainage ditch, Cargo said. The ratio for wetlands that are not coastal, rare or in peril is 1.5 acres per acre disturbed, according to the state of Michigan’s Web site.

Wal-Mart will create more than two acres of higher quality wetland to replace the less than one acre it is disturbing, Cargo said.

“They are going to be mitigating both onsite and offsite,” Cargo said. “They were very cooperative and were able to dovetail their mitigation into our mitigation.”

Scott said Wal-Mart already has customers in the Grand Haven area, which it has determined through tracking credit card transactions.

“We have a really loyal customer base in Grand Haven,” he said. “Grand Haven is a great town, a great city; we’d love to be a part of the city and, more importantly, we’d like to serve our customer base.”

There is no set timeline for construction of the store, Scott said.

“We’re not concerned about the time period,” he said. “We’re concerned with putting together a store that the community can be proud of.”

The proposed location, though zoned agricultural, has been planned for future commercial development.

“I think it’s fitting for what the town has planned for their commercial property to extend down that corridor,” Scott said. “It really fits in with how they want their zoning to work in their future.”

Cargo said the township was planning for more growth along U.S. 31.

“We were expecting this type of development and we wanted to make sure we had the development in place,” Cargo said. “Normally the process for something of this size would not be anywhere near three years long.”

Planning Commission Chairman Ronald Redick said the next step is to discuss the plans and the layout of the store. Redick said issues such as parking, signage, landscaping and architectural design will be discussed.

“I think we will have an approvable plan by the end of the process.”     

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