Wednesday, January 09, 2002

Small Wal-Mart plan expected for Ft. Wright site

Area residents concerned about traffic at Ky. 17 and Highland Pike

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        INDEPENDENCE — Fort Wright officials confirmed Tuesday that a Cincinnati developer is considering building a “scaled-down Wal-Mart” and smaller retail businesses at the site where some residents are fighting a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter.

        “We expect (the new developer) will be coming back in February or March for another run at the property,” Fort Wright Administrator Larry Klein told members of Kenton Fiscal Court at their meeting Tuesday.

        Since workers finished grading a hill on Ky. 17 between Highland Pike and Orphanage Road last summer, speculation has been rampant about what will ultimately go there.

        Although Mr. Klein and Fort Wright Mayor Gene Weaver each met last fall with a representative of Regency Centers, a Cincinnati-based national retail developer, both said they were not shown any plans for the site, and nothing has been submitted to county planners.

        Under Kentucky law, a development plan and zone change request first must be submitted to the Kenton County & Municipal Planning and Zoning Commission for review. Fort Wright City Council would have the final say on whether the project was built.

        Representatives of Regency Centers and the Arkansas-based Wal-Mart did not return phone calls Tuesday.

        Mr. Weaver said Tuesday that he understood the development would be similar to what was originally proposed two years ago by property owner B&Z Development Inc. of Fort Wright, just smaller.

        Opponents argued then that the project would worsen an already bad traffic situation on and near Ky. 17, and they questioned whether the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter fit the permitted uses in the site's neighborhood shopping center zone.

        Mr. Klein said he understood in his meeting with Regency Centers that the Wal-Mart anchoring the project would be “about 10 percent smaller” than the 204,000 square foot Wal-Mart Supercenter originally proposed.

        Patrick Hughes, a Fort Wright resident and lawyer who represented 10 local families opposed to a Wal-Mart Supercenter, said Tuesday: “I'm somewhat relieved that there is now a proposal to build a scaled back store, which tells me that we were successful in our opposition to a super Wal-Mart.”

        On Tuesday, Kenton County Commissioner Barb Black asked Mr. Klein about plans for the site, when he appeared before the fiscal court on another matter.

        In the past year and a half, Mrs. Black estimated she's received dozens of queries about plans for the site.

        “People want to know what's going on with that project,” she said. “It's such a visible site in a growing area.”

        Since fall 2000, when Fort Wright City Council rejected plans for a Wal-Mart Supercenter, and the developer appealed, there has been little action on the legal front, Mr. Klein told the fiscal court Tuesday.

        Mr. Klein said the latest development proposal was addressed in Fort Wright's monthly newsletter sent out last week because city officials “want our citizens to know that we're telling them everything we know” about plans for the site.

        “Whatever transpires from here on out is really between the developer and the city, but we'll continue to monitor it,” Mr. Hughes said Tuesday.


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