Walmart variance request denied

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Hundreds of people, some of them Carmel residents, packed the Zionsville Town Hall last Tuesday night to hear whether the Board of Zoning Appeals was going to allow a Walmart Superstore to be built at 11000 Michigan Rd. near 106th Street. The majority of them left very happy.

Walmart was hoping to build a 156,621-square-foot superstore on land it bought in 2005, but at the end of a spirited three-hour debate, board members voted 4-0 against Walmart’s request.

The primary sticking point revolved around the size of the proposed store. Walmart representatives were requesting a variance from two of Zionsville’s business zoning restrictions.

The ordinance states that no single-use facility, whether free-standing or contained in an integrated center, can exceed 60,000 square feet of gross floor area, and no integrated center can exceed 125,000 square feet of total gross floor area.

Walmart’s facility more than doubled the size of the 60,000 square foot limit and was about 30,000 square feet over the integrated center restriction. Comparatively, the existing Marsh supermarket at 106th Street and Michigan Road is about 64,000 square feet.

Walmart’s attorney, Joe Calderon, presented the store’s side, arguing that the proposed size was comparable to the nearby Target and Home Depot stores just south of 106th Street on Michigan Road.

Remonstrators and town staff disagreed with that logic, citing 106th Street as a “transitional boundary” and using Carmel’s zoning ordinances as an example. In 2006, Carmel and Zionsville worked in collaboration to create ordinances limiting building size, with 106th Street as a border, which begins an area of less-intense commercial development that transitions to residential developments.

Carmel’s ordinance does not restrict “big box” development along Michigan Road until north of 106th Street, when an 85,000-square-foot restriction begins. In 2006, Zionsville adopted the 60,000-square-foot restriction for businesses within town borders no matter the location.

Arguments presented by remonstrators, mostly residents of Zionsville, ranged from concerns about increased crime to the store being open 24 hours to decreased property values. Discussion around Walmart identifying itself as an “integrated center” also was disputed as only 2,800 square feet of the proposed 156,621 square feet would be dedicated to “tenants” with no individual entries nor resemblance to other integrated centers in the area, such as Boone Village.

Near the end of the meeting, Wayne Delong, the director of planning and economic development for the Town of Zionsville, summarized in his staff report that the Petitioner had not clearly identified why it needed a variance of development standards beyond the allowed 60,000 square feet.

Board Member Gregory Morical concluded the discussion by stating, “One point that is important to make is that the burden is on the petitioner to show us why they need the variance. Based upon what we heard tonight and the findings of fact, I feel they failed to meet that burden.”

As the vote passed and both variance requests were denied, the crowd was elated. Leigh Ann Akard, owner of Akard True Value in Boone Village commented, “Regardless of who it is, it was such a huge request. I think the Board of Zoning made the right decision, otherwise they would be setting a precedent.” She added, “It’s not a small, ‘can we bend?’ It was ‘how far can we bend’?”

Per board procedures, Walmart may change the building design to meet the size requirements and re-file in one year.


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