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Walmart concerns grow

Opponents to the big-box retailer question area traffic conditions and the chain's intention to sell groceries.

February 04, 2012|By Mark Kellam, mark.kellam@latimes.com

Opposition to a planned Walmart in Burbank surged this week as critics demanded the city first address promised traffic improvements before allowing the mega-retailer to move in.

Backed by an attorney for the powerful United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 770, opponents packed the Burbank City Council Chambers on Tuesday demanding due consideration be paid to the impact a Walmart would have on an already congested network of roads surrounding the Empire Center.

Walmart recently filed plans with the city for a store in the former Great Indoors store adjacent to the Empire Center.

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Critics contend a resolution passed in 2000 requires the city to finish improvements where Buena Vista intersects Victory Boulevard and Empire Avenue before Walmart can get its building permit.

Principal Planner Patrick Prescott said the projects are still planned, but traffic levels at the intersections haven’t reached the point where the work is necessary. There is also insufficient right-of-way to make the improvements now and structures would need to be demolished either by purchase or eminent domain.

Instead, Prescott said that if the traffic moves above acceptable levels after Walmart opens, the city would be required to complete the projects.

Opponents also argue that Walmart’s plans to offer groceries violates zoning codes for the parcel.

“The overriding considerations are relying on these projects being built,” Gideon Kracov, the attorney for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, said. “Don’t the words ‘prior to issuance of a building permit’ and, on another issue, ‘grocery prohibited,’ mean something?”

City officials have said a stand-alone grocery store is not permitted in the former Great Indoors site, but a big-box store like Walmart is allowed to include grocery sales.

Walmart intends to dedicate about 31,000 square feet in the 142,757-square-foot building to grocery sales, according to plans submitted with the city.

Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy said she wants to look more closely at the grocery component of the proposed Walmart because she thinks it is more of a full-service grocery than what Target or Super Kmart offers.

“The Walmart idea of food sales looks more like a small Ralphs based on the range of food it [sells],” she said.

She also expressed concern about the traffic impacts, especially since construction of an interchange at Empire Avenue along the Golden State (5) Freeway and other traffic projects will be occurring near the Empire Center about the time Walmart would open.

“I think we’re gonna have a real traffic problem,” she said.

The report addressing the traffic concerns is expected to be back before the council Feb. 21.

After the council meeting, Gideon Kracov, an attorney for two local Walmart opponents, said litigation is still on the table if opponents are unsatisfied.

“We will not rule out litigation,” he said.

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