Thursday, April 10, 2003

Wal-Mart strictures settled

Ft. Wright insists on improved access roads

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FORT WRIGHT - The Shoppes of Fort Wright, a controversial multimillion-dollar development anchored by a Wal-Mart SuperCenter, will be held to strict architectural standards when construction begins this summer, City Administrator Larry Klein told council Wednesday.

The Wal-Mart SuperCenter will be brick on three sides, and the development will feature low-to-the-ground, monument-style signs with a stone veneer base instead of the pole signs that the developer had first proposed. There will be fewer curb cuts to expedite traffic, much more landscaping than originally planned, and outlying businesses on the site will have to incorporate common design elements in everything from paint colors to building materials, Klein said.

More importantly, he said Fort Wright officials required that improvements to roads in and around the site must be completed before the Wal-Mart can open.

The Wal-Mart is scheduled to open by February, but smaller businesses that will be built on the lots surrounding the Wal-Mart SuperCenter may open before then.

"Whether people were for it or against it ... this appears to me to be a long-term, sustainable development that's got to be one of the nicest around,'' council member Paul Hiltz said.

Mayor Gene Weaver complimented Klein and other city staff on their efforts to negotiate the best possible project.

"Because of everyone's efforts, we've got a better project today than what was originally presented to us,'' Weaver said.

The 183,917-square-foot Wal-Mart will anchor a mix of retail and service uses on a site at Highland Pike, Orphanage Road and Ky. 17.

Last month, Regency Centers of the Midwest announced it had purchased 37.3 acres from B&Z Development of Fort Wright. The Jacksonville, Fla.-based company sold part of that property to Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust for the development of a $5.7 million Wal-Mart SuperCenter.

The project - proposed in fall 2000 - ran into a roadblock then when Fort Wright City Council rejected the original developer's plan for a Wal-Mart about 10 percent larger than the current one.

B&Z Development, the original developer, sued Fort Wright City Council in November 2000 to overturn the city's rejection of that plan.

Last May, however, Fort Wright officials approved a settlement that called for a smaller development and required that state routes surrounding the project be widened and have extra turn lanes added before the Wal-Mart could open. All of that work will be funded by the developer and the Kentucky highway department.

"Usually, road improvements are phased in as the out lots are developed, but city council wisely said, 'We want all road improvements done up front,' '' Klein said.

Eaton Asphalt has a contract to complete about $3.5 million worth of road improvements by September. As a guarantee that the work will be done, the city has a letter of irrevocable credit from Jim Berling of B&Z Development, who has worked with Regency Centers to develop the site.

"If the state says we're broke and all road projects come to a halt, the road improvements will be covered by the developer,'' Klein said.

The project will include landscaped cart corrals in the parking lot, as well as trees and shrubbery along portions of the access road served by an automatic sprinkler system. Ten acorn-shaped street lamps with black poles, similar to those in front of the Fort Wright city building, will line Valley Plaza Parkway, and sidewalks will be built on both sides of the project's new access road linking Highland Pike and Orphanage Road.

A wing wall of bricks will extend from the sides of the building to help hide where trucks make deliveries, and there will be ornamental iron gates and brick enclosures around the building's compressors and outdoor garden supply area. In accordance with city zoning regulations, no outside storage will be allowed.

By prohibiting gas stations and restricting fast-food outlets, the city reduced traffic by 20 percent, from about 10,000 vehicles during a 24-hour day to 8,000, Klein said.

Valley Plaza Parkway, the new access road, should reduce traffic on Ky. 17 because Highland Pike commuters heading to cities such as Edgewood or Crestview Hills can avoid Ky. 17 by cutting through the Shoppes of Fort Wright development, Klein said.

New signs at the site will direct truckers to use Interstate 275 instead of I-75 to lessen traffic tie-ups on an already congested Highland Pike and Kyles Lane.

Regency Centers plans to put a landscaped flag plaza and an 18,650-square-foot retail strip building at Ky. 17 and Highland Pike. The developer has said possible uses will include a jeweler, hair stylists, restaurants and a video store or pet chain.

Other businesses that have expressed interest in the Shoppes of Fort Wright development include banks and restaurants. By mid-summer, the developer expects to announce some of the businesses that will be built on the out lots.


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