MANSFIELD — Their issue wasn’t on the agenda for a vote, but more than 100 East Mansfield residents who oppose a planned Wal-Mart superstore in their neighborhoods crowded City Hall Monday to make their feelings clear to the City Council.They had reason to cheer as several council members said they were unimpressed with Wal-Mart’s development plans.Wal-Mart has contracted to purchase about 23 acres in the southeast quadrant of East Broad Street and North Holland Road, but city officials said they don’t expect preliminary plans to be submitted until July. That would lead to two months or more of scrutiny by the city staff, Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council and include several hearings for public comments.But leaders of the eight neighborhoods near the site said they want to nip the proposal in the bud. They worry that a 175,000-square-foot Wal-Mart, especially a 24-hour store, would increase noise, traffic, light pollution and crime.“If Wal-Mart wants to build here, they need to find another piece of land, something more suitable — off the highway,” said Pam Downs of the nearby Mira Lagos subdivision in southwest Grand Prairie, which is part of the Mansfield school district.“It’s an upscale neighborhood with three schools and the stadium and the natatorium and the roads, just everything. It’s no place for a big-box store.”The council scheduled a discussion with Wal-Mart representatives during its work session before the public meeting. The early session was moved from the conference room into the much larger, roughly 100-seat council chambers to accommodate the large crowd they expected.But then Mayor Pro Tem Larry Broseh apologetically told the standing-room-only crowd that the council had to flip its schedule and go into closed session first and then discuss the Wal-Mart issue about hour later.When the council recessed to its executive session room, one resident stood and called the schedule change a “bait and switch.”The residents decided to stay put, turning their free time into a strategy session. They weren’t in agreement on everything.One woman asked the audience to avoid labeling the concern “a Wal-Mart issue. It’s a 24-hour big-box issue.”But an older man disagreed, complaining about Wal-Mart’s practice of letting truckers park their big rigs in store parking lots overnight, which he said adds to noise and fumes.“It is a Wal-Mart issue,” he said. “Wal-Mart is the bad guy. Call it like it is.”When the council returned, Scott Polikov, president of Gateway Planning, a Wal-Mart consultant, emphasized the preliminary status of the project.“No zoning application has been filed,” he said. “No decisions have been made. No significant work has been done on this project. I don’t think we’re in a position to answer any detailed questions like what kind of materials will be used, and what are the traffic impacts.”But, he said, the store would be designed to fit nicely into the neighborhood, and the plans might include a small retail strip between Holland Road and Wal-Mart to hide the big box’s flank from view.But council members who spoke sided mostly with the residents.Councilman Cory Hoffman took note of Polikov’s brief slide show, commenting, “None of that impresses me. I think that’s kind of your average, run-of-the-mill development there. I’m hoping a residential developer will come in there and put residential housing on it.”The crowd roared approval.Then the council started taking comments from the residents.Marc Croker said he determined there are about 3,000 homes within a two-mile radius of the project site, with a value of more than $600 million. He, like other residents, reminded the council that they are elected officials and urged them to respect their investment and reject the zoning request if one is submitted.“You’ll have my vote and pretty much the votes of everyone here,” he said to more cheers.Preston Horn, president of the Meadow Glen homeowners association, said their online petition drive has collected more than 2,000 signatures.
Robert Cadwallader 817-390-7641 Twitter: @Kaddmann