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24-hour Walmart grocery store wins Wauwatosa Plan Commission's support

Plan to reuse former Jewel-Osco building finds little opposition

April 12, 2011

Mayor Jill Didier wanted to get one message clear: "I do not want a Walmart" in Wauwatosa, she said.

But a smaller neighborhood grocery store and pharmacy operated by the retail giant got her approval Monday night.

Walmart won unanimous support from the Plan Commission for its plans to open a 24-hour Neighborhood Market in a vacant building at 124th Street and Capitol Drive. The 65,000-square-foot facility previously housed Jewel-Osco. This time around, Walmart proposes using 38,000 square feet and splitting the remaining space among up to three tenants.

The commission approval is a recommendation that the Community Development Committee will take into account when it considers granting a conditional-use permit for the use.

Walmart would be prohibited from expanding into those other spaces and creating one of its traditional stores by language in the developer's agreement, said Debbie Tomczyk, an attorney for the project. Such an agreement is required by the city's ordinance - which Tomczyk actually helped create - regulating "big-box" retail.

The ordinance is meant to protect Wauwatosa from having big empty buildings if a business should leave, it is not intended to keep large-scale developments from coming into the city, said Alderman Don Birschel, who sits on the commission.

In fact, Commissioner John Albert said he would like to see the grocery store take up a larger portion of the overall development, more like what has been proposed for the former Bowling Congress site in Greendale.

Tomczyk said the additional tenants would be independent of Walmart. While no businesses have been specified yet, those decisions tend to come quickly after the project gets approved, she said.

The request to operate around the clock was met with little discussion.

Many people like to grocery shop late at night because their days are so busy, Tomczyk said. She suggested the commission could review the operating hours six months after it opens if there was any concern. Muskego made its approval of a Walmart Supercenter contingent on a similar review, and when that review was conducted there were no problems found, she said.

Didier reminded the commission to think back to the 24-hour Walgreens that had been proposed for Burleigh Square but was voted down by the Common Council. That property has not been filled, although a Firestone has been OK'd to occupy a portion of the site.

Commissioners pointed out a 24-hour Pick 'n Save operates on the Brookfield side of the street, making Walmart's request consistent with the commercial area.

Alderman Craig Wilson showed up to voice his support for Walmart, saying the plans he has seen look like they could bring vitality back to this city border. The northern portion of the city has a larger share of underutilized properties than other part of the city, he added.

Resident Nick Schweitzer came to the meeting expecting the city to fight Walmart. He understood questions posed by the mayor to be unwelcoming to the development.

"It's too bad Walmart has to tap dance around like this and say all the things that they won't do," he said. "It's a shame they can't do more of what they want to do."

Didier said she wasn't sure where Schweitzer's hostility was coming from, adding that the city had never asked Walmart to downsize the project. The smaller-scale neighborhood market was what was presented to Wauwatosa, she said.

NEXT STEP

WHAT: The Community Development Committee will discuss whether to allow a Walmart grocery store and pharmacy to open at 3850 N. 124th St.

WHEN: 8 p.m. April 26

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

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