When Andy and Becky Jones moved to Fox Ridge Estates in March, they knew they’d have new neighbors, but they weren’t expecting Sam’s Club.
Now, the couple have emerged as leaders of a neighborhood campaign to stop the big-box retailer from putting its third Wichita store on a 38-acre lot that backs up to their backyard.
Becky Jones says that if the plan goes through, the view from her back deck will likely be a concrete wall and the back of the store. “We don’t want that type of development this close to our house,” she said.
Developers representing Sam’s Club, the membership-store division of the Wal-Mart retail empire, have filed annexation and zone-change applications to clear the way for a store at the northeast corner of 29th Street North and Maize Road.
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In addition to Sam’s, the project area would include space for another big-box retailer and six smaller retail lots, according to plans filed with the city.
The Joneses and other residents fear the store will bring noise, traffic and air pollution and devastate property values in their neighborhood, a development with homes ranging from about $300,000 to $800,000.
Sarah Lauffer, whose house also backs up to the property where the Sam’s Club is proposed, said the store would bring hordes of out-of-area shoppers by day and fleets of semis making deliveries at night.
“Obviously, we’re just determined not to see that happen,” she said. “I don’t feel like we’d be able to sell our house for as much as a house that didn’t have a Sam’s Club behind it.”
Curtis Rink, one of the owners of the property to be developed, declined comment, deferring to the agency representing Sam’s Club. The Dallas-based agent, Kevin Gaskey of Kimley-Horn & Associates, referred calls to Wal-Mart Stores’ corporate media department, which did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Although big-box commercial development has moved north from the NewMarket Square shopping area — at times over objections from nearby neighborhoods — the Fox Ridge neighbors are optimistic that the city will pay attention to their protest and block the Sam’s Club.
They’re circulating a petition and plan to make their case at a meeting with their City Council member Thursday and at District Advisory Board and Planning Commission meetings on Sept. 10 and 20.
“If we’ve got no chance of winning and big-box stores can just move in and say, ‘We’re going to do this regardless,’ then what’s the point of a process?” Andy Jones said. “What’s the point of them having the public hearings? What’s the point of us being able to object to the public hearing outcomes? It’s a democracy, after all. We should have faith that the process is there for a reason.”
City Council member Jeff Longwell, who represents the area, has agreed to meet with the residents Thursday evening.
He said he’s not ready to take sides on the development because he hasn’t talked with the developers and the plans are not yet clear.
“It’s an appropriate site for some type of commercial development,” he said. “That’s what we typically see at those hard corners (near NewMarket Square). It depends on what the development looks like and what the buffers are going to be.”
The neighborhood meeting with Longwell will begin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Sedgwick County Extension Center, 7001 W. 21st St., Wichita.