Fierce Walmart Debate at Shrewsbury Hearing
The conceptual site plan offers answers, but residents remain concerned.
New details about the potential shape of the proposed Kenrick Plaza redevelopment provoked more questions than answers at a public meeting held at Shrewsbury City Hall Tuesday night.
More than 100 people filled the city hall’s ballroom to ask the Shrewsbury Board of Aldermen and city officials about the Kenrick Plaza overhaul. As with past meetings, the plan drew both condemnation and praise, with both cheers and jeers drawing applause.
The conceptual site plan posted on the city’s website prior to the meeting showed a possible layout that would level the uneven terrain of the area, construct several new retail spaces and cut off access to Watson Road from Trianon Drive and Kenrick Manor Drive. At the heart of the proposal by developer G.J. Grewe is the construction of a 124,000 square-foot Walmart as an “anchor” store.
However, much about the proposal remained uncertain. Outlines showing where new stores might be located or existing business relocated were left blank. Illustrations displayed landscaping perspectives for the front and rear entrances but didn’t provide a concept for the look of the retail giant in the middle, Walmart.
“When you use the word conceptual, it’s a pretty loose term,” said Bill Hartrich, a member of the Shrewsbury Citizen’s Advisory Committee. “I would like to see something more detailed with what it is actually going to look like.”
Mayor Felicity Buckley emphasized the plan could easily change and discussions with Grewe remain ongoing. How much the city will benefit financially also remains uncertain. The city’s financial advisor, Mark Grimm, estimated that the development could bring an extra $500,000-800,000 in net tax revenue and said research is being done to arrive at an exact figure.
As in previous meetings, the Kenrick Manor Drive/Trinidad Drive cutoff was a primary concern for many opposed to the plan. The street is currently used by residents in the subdivisions behind Kenrick to travel to Watson Road.
“Is the opening of Walmart and closing of Kenrick Manor Drive indivisible?” asked Shrewsbury resident Nick Slais.
The plan doesn’t completely restrict access: residents would be able to get to Watson Road by entering just north of the Kenrick Antique Mall and winding through the parking lot. Buckley responded by explaining that the decisions to close the more direct route was not a request of the developer.
“It was a result of a lot of input we had had from citizens over there who were concerned about doubling the traffic they already have,” Buckley said. “They were concerned about having cut-through traffic and development traffic. Even if we did a different developer and a different retailer, we would have the same issue.”
The answer did little to satisfy Shrewsbury resident Sue Leon, who argued that by closing off Kenrick Manor the traffic influx from areas north of the city would simply be shifted farther up.
“So you just move it up to Weil [Avenue] then?” Leon said.
Others were not opposed to redeveloping Kenrick Plaza but were against Walmart on principal, including former Shrewsbury resident Ben Krauss. Krauss arrived at the meeting early and said he was bothered by the retail giant’s decision to not allow its employees to unionize.
“I am hoping we can hold out and wait and something better will come along,” he said. “We have way too many Walmarts and they don’t have a good track record of taking care of their employees.”
However, other residents expressed support for the proposal as the meeting drew to a close. Sandy Odenwald asked her fellow citizens to put aside any anti-Walmart feelings and focus on the bigger picture.
“It’s for the betterment of the whole community that we have some revenue to keep our taxes down and bring more people in to the community,” Odenwald said.
For one resident the potential tax revenue to keep city services running provided a very personal reason to back the redevelopment plan. The individual told a story of her 11-year-old son who had badly fractured his leg. Emergency’s responders from Shrewsbury had the child on the way to the hospital in minutes, she said.
The general hearing ended at 8 p.m. and the meeting was then broken into three smaller Q&A sessions for each of the city’s three wards. There, citizens had the chance to speak directly with their aldermen and the arguments for and against the controversial development continued unabated.