The battle rages on – will Wal-mart land in Zionsville?


Commercial development. The May referendum. The Ford Road Bridge. And now, Wal-mart.


The big issues simply keep coming for Zionsville, and the latest contentious talking point revolves around a proposal to erect a Wal-mart on Michigan Road near 106th Street in Zionsville. It’s a revisiting of an issue dating back to 2006, when the Arkansas-based retail giant first expressed interest in the parcel of land in question – 10950 Michigan Rd. – acreage which it now owns, despite being thwarted.

Whereas the first iteration of the issue has hung in the air for six years, this time around a clear answer could be had in six weeks. Particulars of the package will first be heard on Jan. 8 by the Zionsville Board of Zoning Appeals, and subsequently at a Jan. 22 Plan Commission meeting.

The latter hearing could well determine if it is Yea or Nay for the entire project.

The top of this rendering represents north. At the right is Michigan Road. (Submitted illustration)

The particulars 

Both aforementioned meetings are rescheduled dates of previously-planned readings. A petition for a Development Standards Variance was scheduled to be heard at the Nov. 27 BZA meeting, but a continuance was made. On Jan. 8, it will be decided whether the proposed structure can exceed the B-2 zoning square footage limitation of 125,000 for an integrated center; the potential building eclipses that mark by 31,621 square feet.

The Plan Commission reading, originally on tap for Dec. 17, would grant approval for Wal-mart’s development plan – a defacto referendum on the project.

The Jan. 8 square footage decision is in direct response to 2006 negotiations between Wal-mart and Zionsville. Then, a 300,000-square foot building was proposed, which required rezoning. The sitting Town Council denied that move, and Wal-mart’s developer altered its plans to circumvent the ruling. The square footage parameters were then enacted, in essence tabling the idea until now.

Lawsuits followed, but no ground was broken.

The meeting

Nov. 12, the Zionsville Village Residents’ Association hosted a discussion with Wal-mart representatives to learn more about the proposal. That meeting came on the heels of a similar October gathering, which both groups felt merited a reprise.

“The Wal-mart team has been open in responding to questions and is continuing the dialogue with the town,” the ZVRA said about the meeting in a statement. “There were many significant concerns expressed by residents and the impact Wal-mart would have on the community in terms of traffic, environment, aesthetics and taxes. We hope input from the residents will continue to be taken into consideration.”

Pleasantries aside, the second gathering produced much consternation. Accounts vary, but multiple sources reported a Wal-mart representative as either stating or implying the company had partnered with local cornerstone Akard True Value in an effort to show solidarity with the community.

It’s something both Wal-mart and True Value manager Leigh Ann Akard flatly deny.

“We weren’t in attendance,” Akard said of store representatives. “We’re confused as to what was said – Wal-mart is saying what was said was mistaken, but it was strong enough that that’s what was implied from it, and that’s disturbing. Wal-mart’s reputation should stand on its own. They should not have brought us into the conversation.”

Current in Zionsville contributor Bret Brewer attended the meeting, taking detailed notes, and is confident in what he heard.

“They said, ‘We’ve partnered with Leigh Ann,’” Brewer confirmed to Current.

Akard understandably was reticent to engage in any aspect of the Wal-mart discussion, but now is eager to set the record straight.

“Competition is not a bad thing,” she said. “But we weren’t going to throw our dog in the fight, because they’re a bigger dog. The name Wal-mart does not scream upscale, and I think it will affect all Boone Village. If people are shopping for groceries (at Wal-mart) and decide to pick up a furnace filter or light bulbs there, that cuts into our business. They’re trying to give the sense they’re being welcomed into town, and they are not. We encourage people to get educated and make the best decision, whether they are for or against.”

The other side

Zionsville’s Brian Stemme knows a little something about the issue, having dealt with several economic developers through his employer. He’s convinced any backlash to Wal-mart, including worries the store’s introduction will spell doom for the Village, is misplaced.

“I don’t think they are competitors,” he said of Wal-mart and the Village. “When I go to the Village, I enjoy dinner, antiques, a mix of unique stuff. I don’t go there to get my staples: tuna fish, cereal. I don’t see Wal-mart as a threat.”

Part of Stemme’s stance deals with the idea that a large commercial improvement will help diversify Zionsville’s tax base – something almost universally sought.

“Wal-mart is not asking for a tax abatement,” he said. “They will pay property taxes from the first year on. If you have to choose between no growth and smart growth, you choose smart growth.”

Stemme also touched on the issue’s white elephant: There already are similar stores in the area.

“Look at the size of the Super Target (10401 N. Michigan Rd. in Carmel),” he said. “I don’t see that people are as concerned about it, even though it generates traffic and competition to local vendors. I think Wal-mart has a stigma. I respect people who feel having a Wal-mart here is a bad idea, but if you look at it logically and ignore that the name is Wal-mart, the discussion would be less intense.”


Be heard – upcoming meetings

Dec. 11
Westons Board of Directors meeting with Wal-mart representatives
College Park Church, Towne Road and 96th Street
7 p.m.

Jan. 8
Zionsville Board of Zoning Appeals
Zionsville Town Hall, 1100 W. Oak St.
6:30 p.m.

Jan. 17
Zionsville Plan Commission
Zionsville Town Hall, 1100 W. Oak St.
7 p.m.


Wal-mart and property taxes

Based on the Indiana Property Record Card, the cost of the land that Wal-mart purchased was $4,821,805. This value appears to have been reduced to $15,500 for 2006 through 2009 for property tax purposes. In 2010, the assessed value was increased to $1,728,100, less than 36 percent of cost. The total taxes paid by Wal-mart from 2006 through 2009 was $1,312.18.