|The surrounding area of the 20-acre Country Club Apartments on Airport Road in South Huntsville. Current zoning shown.|
At the Huntsville City Council meeting Thursday night, it was revealed that the redevelopment of the 50-year-old complex on Airport Road would be a 189,000 sq. ft. Walmart. As expected, this did not go over well with the residents of the Piedmont neighborhood, which is just to the north of the Country Club site.
Some of you may recall that a couple of months ago, a rezoning request for the site was denied due to a need for a traffic study conducted by the city, which concluded that a theoretical big-box store would only exacerbate the congestion of Airport, which isn't scheduled to be improved until 2016 at the earliest, according to the city's Capital Improvement Plan.
While the city of Huntsville doesn't actively pursue new Walmart stores, municipal governments do like them because each Supercenter nets approximately $50 million in annual sales, which translates to about $2 million in sales tax revenues (the main revenue stream of Alabama cities). So they do welcome them at every chance they can get one. The problems with this particular store are that it will replace an existing store, leaving 100,000 square feet of vacant retail on the Parkway, and create only a marginal gain in sales tax revenues (compared to a completely new location). And did I mention the traffic it would create?
Some of you may recall that the redevelopment of Country Club was to be mixed-use, hence the odd current zoning of the 20-acre site as 60/40 multi-family residential (R2B) and neighborhood business (C1).
In this case, when the costs-- vacant retail, more traffic, unhappy neighborhood-- outweigh the benefits-- infill development, a better looking Walmart-- maybe it's time to put this proposal to rest and come back with a better plan. Airport Road is a desirable corridor, and other retailers will follow that aren't as touchy and will be willing to be part of a denser mixed-use development with a residential "buffer zone," which is what Country Club should have been all along. But Walmart shouldn't be left out in the cold, considering their significant contributions to the tax rolls-- something could probably be worked out that would keep them on the Parkway, or better yet, expand their current location.
UPDATE (6/3/2011): The Averbuches have pulled their plans to rezone the Country Club property to all commercial, effectively killing plans for a full-size Walmart there.