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12/09/2011

Walmart wants to build a Neighborhood Market at Berry and Hemphill in Fort Worth

Walmart plans to file an application Monday with the city of Fort Worth, seeking a zoning change on a building at Berry and Hemphill streets where it wants to open a Walmart Neighborhood Market.

The market, in a former grocery store building remodeled into a fellowship hall by its current owner, the Travis Avenue Baptist Church, would be Walmart’s first in the center of the city, potentially helping spur redevelopment along the Hemphill corridor.

But the location at the southwest corner of the intersection also is in heart of the city’s 10-year-old Hemphill/Berry Urban Village, and neighborhood associations want Walmart’s architects to make their building more street-friendly, with more transparent glass and lighting, and a design that blends better with the surrounding older homes.

"They’re going to have to make concessions if they really want us to support it," Fernando Florez, president of the South Hemphill Heights Neighborhood Association and chairman of the Hemphill Corridor Task Force, said after a Fort Worth consulting firm representing Walmart told neighborhood groups Thursday night that the company plans to file its application Monday, capping months of conversations.

Walmart, the No. 1 retailer and no stranger to frequently contentious talks with communities where it wants to open stores, plans to seek a zoning change to planned development allowing mixed use and requiring a binding site plan. The current zoning allows mixed uses.

Walmart, which currently has the site under contract, would demolish the 40,000-square-foot building and erect one of about the same size.

Assuming the city council approves the rezoning, Walmart "would like to move forward with it soon after zoning approval under their current schedule," Tom Galbreath, executive vice president at Dunaway, the civil engineering and landscape architecture firm representing Walmart, said after Thursday’s meeting.

The rezoning, if approved by the city Zoning Commission and the City Council, would allow Walmart to retain the parking lot in front of the building. The planned development zoning also dictates the percentage of transparent windows required on the Berry Street and Hemphill Street exterior walls.

Walmart has already made several concessions in talks with the neighborhoods, including adding more streetfront windows and lowering their height, moving the truck dock to Hemphill Street from the opposite side facing homes on Travis Street, moving the building closer to Hemphill, adding an 8-foot wall on the south side of the building to block headlights from traffic at the planned pharmacy window, and adding a Hemphill entry and focusing the truck delivery route there.

"We feel we have gotten very close" to resolving the neighborhoods’ concerns, Galbreath told the groups.

Thursday night, after Galbreath presented Walmart’s plan inside the fellowship hall, neighborhood representatives said they wanted more. They suggested they wanted Walmart in the neighborhood, but on the neighborhoods’ terms.

"I think people are for it, but it has to be done right," Florez said.

Sandra Dennehy, a Fort Worth architect and president of the Berry Street Initiative, said she planned to oppose the Walmart application, proposing instead that any exceptions be confined to the Walmart building itself, and not to the parking lot.

That way, future developers interested in putting streetfront buildings on the parking lot "would have to comply with the (mixed use zoning) with no exceptions," she said.

Galbreath told the groups that Walmart doesn’t object to that idea.

Neighborhood leaders acknowledged they might be asking for more than what Walmart would typically spend on erecting a Neighborhood Market, but Paul Millender, who’s considering running for president of the South Hemphill association, said "we want Walmart to step outside of themselves."

"They can blend right in," he said. "They’re going to take this building right to the ground. They can resuirrect any phoenix if they want."

Walmart’s options for the site are impeded somewhat by the fact that the owner of a small strip center at the immediate southwest corner of Berry and Hemphill has declined to sell, Galbreath told the neighborhood groups. The Travis Avenue site wraps around the strip center on the south and west.

Fort Worth’s 13 urban villages are small areas zoned for dense, mixed-use, and mass transit- and pedestrian-friendly development. Parks, business, entertainment venues, homes, and stores should have a "consistent look" and "feel that emphasizes the culture and heritage of those who call it home," according to city guidelines.

The Hemphill/Berry village is a hatchet-shaped area bounded by Bowie Street on the north, the Hemphill-Jennings alley on the east, and Woodland Street on the south. It goes as far as College Avenue to the west.

Walmart’s growing Neighborhood Market chain are stores focused on groceries that the company can put on smaller sites closer to neighborhoods. Other locations in the Fort Worth area include stores in West Fort Worth at Vickery and Southwest boulevards, Meadowbrook, and Park Glen.

Scott Nishimura, (817) 390-7808

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