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01/24/2012

Walmart, neighborhood reps, homeowners, parry over proposed Fort Worth store's design

Representatives for Walmart and neighborhoods met again tonight to try and hash out disagreements over the design of a proposed Walmart Neighborhood Market in the middle of Fort Worth's Hemphill/Berry Urban Village.

In a community meeting at the Travis Avenue Baptist Church South Annex -- the building Walmart has under contract, with plans to raze and build a new Walmart Neighborhood Market, pending a zoning Wmtchange it's seeking -- Walmart's design consultants presented their latest plan, which they recently rolled out to the Fort Worth Zoning Commission. Because the plan included fresh changes that hadn't been presented to the neighborhoods, the commission put the case off for a month to give Walmart and the neighborhoods time to meet. Click here to read our previous coverage.

"It's a good store, it's a catalyst," Tom Galbraith, representing Dunaway, a Fort Worth firm that Walmart is working with on the case, offered to the groups.

Walmart is on top of meeting the objective criteria for the rezoning it's seeking. It's still tinkering with whether it has the right percentages of clear windows on the Berry Street side of the building, which is at the southwest corner of Berry and Hemphill. Tonight, it learned from city staff at the neighborhood meeting that its plan for the Hemphill side of the building might not meet minimum masonry requirements.

But more broadly, the site is in the middle of the city's Hemphill-Berry Urban Village and the Zoning Commission and ultimately the City Council could hold the case up on the question of whether Walmart's plan fits the vision of the Urban Village.

Even with Walmart having made concessions already -- its latest plan (see the top picture) includes more glass and a greater orientation of the building toward Hemphill -- neighborhood leaders want a stronger exterior design that better fits the surrounding neighborhoods and includes lots of pedestiran-level transparent glass that highlights activity inside the store, and draws patrons in.

"We want a store, but we want it to comply with the Urban Village," Fernando Florez, head of two of the neighborhood groups re-iterated tonight.

A sticking point hashed out tonight: Walmart's plan for the Hemphill side of the building includes exterior opaque glass at eye level, because tall produce cases are on the interior side of wall, and Walmart wants to stick with its store prototype. A city staffer questioned whether walking outside the Hemphill Street exterior wall would be like traversing "a very dark corridor" at night.

Rick Kubes, representing the Berry Street Initiative, said if the neighborhoods and city give in and make concessions from the Urban Village plan for the Walmart store, then the neighborhoods will be vulnerable to more requests for more exceptions should other developers come calling.

"Once you set the precedent for this corner, then you've got problems over here," Kubes said.

Walmart had some vocal support at the meeting. "I think this is a good layout, and I would love to see it here," one man said. "This is a good working model," said another.

One woman noted that redevelopment has been very slow to come east on Berry Street, for all the discussions that have occurred over the years. "I don't appreciate someone telling me what I can and cannot have because of a vision," she said. With City Councilman Joel Burns having quietly walked into the meeting and sat toward the side of the room, another man asked for a show of hands in support for the project as-is, so Burns could see. Several hands went up.

Scott Nishimura

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I have no problems with the said design and I think several shares my opinion as well. But the proposed zoning re-adjustments according to local officials deviates from the mandated proportion for the commercial lot.

The design looks very compelling. The engineers really did well in making this kind of structural design. Wal-Mart is one of the prestigious malls and I am pretty sure that they will use high grade industrial products in building this establishment.

I like the design of this building. Wal-Mart has been known for its great looking designs and high quality buildings. I hope that they will be able to settle this as soon as possible to start building the Wal-Mart.

I totally do not understand the comments being made by Fernando Florez and Rick Kubes in this article. Within steps and feet of the proposed building are eyesores galore. Treasure Wholesale occupies an old 7-11 store that still appears abandoned. O'Reily Auto Parts is decent, but has a Hemphill side that is already a dark night corridor. South on Hemphill are numerous boarded houses and buildings with no plans for the future. Thanks to Travis Avenue Baptist Church and their future plans, their corner will transform into something beautiful in the next few years.

My opinion is settle this quickly to allow Wal-Mart to build this building. It will be significantly and light years ahead of any current building's facade within miles of this corner.

I sincerely hope petty bickering doesn't kill this project. It's a win-win and Southside desperately needs it.

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