Walmart critics voice concerns in Atascadero

Traffic, nighttime noise and competition for local merchants dominated concerns Tuesday night over two shopping developments in Atascadero.

Locals shared ideas with city leaders on what needs further study for a proposed Walmart and adjacent Annex shopping center on the north side of town.

A long line of speakers took the lectern at the joint City Council and Planning Commission meeting on the two developments, which have been much discussed in the North County city for several years.

The meeting was broken into two parts. The first sought comment only on what to study for a state-mandated environmental-impact report, while the second part allowed people to speak freely about Walmart.

“The environmental impact report is how you get the answers to your questions,” Councilman Tom O’Malley said.

Among the projects’ effects would be widening El Camino Real and Del Rio Road to five lanes, removing oak trees and potentially relocating two historic Colony homes that date to Atascadero’s founding era.

The meeting had a mix of Walmart critics and supporters, with the latter applauding after remarks on affordable goods, increased tax revenue and jobs.

Some people who live near the proposed projects’ site worried about their children walking home from school amid the increased traffic the developments are expected to create.

People who worried about fiscal or economic issues wanted sales tax revenue to be studied, with comparisons to similar communities to see whether any local businesses closed after a Walmart opened.

Tom Comar of the Save Atascadero group said he is still worried about whether Walmart would affect local retailers and grocers and the employees working there. He would like to see Walmart agree to not expand in the future.

Mayor Roberta Fonzi echoed other requests to make sure safe walking paths are constructed between Walmart and the adjacent Annex center; and that disabled-access, bicycle and pedestrian walkways be laid out within the project.

Increased crime was also touched on, as officials and speakers sought more information on how many calls police receive from the project area now, compared to what Walmart stores have in similar towns.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is paying for the $427,000 environmental study, officials said. The city chose and hired the consultant for the study through an interview process. Topics typically studied in such reports can include effects on air quality, water and public services.

The retail giant is going forward with a smaller-scale plan of 123,000 square feet of retail and grocery sales, plus about 6,500 square feet of outdoor garden services.

There would also be two commercial lots on about 10,000 square feet and the possibility of a 44-unit multifamily residential parcel.

The Annex component adjacent to the proposed Walmart has more than 120,000 square feet of commercial space and its own possibility of single-family residential development.

To comment on the project

Anyone with questions or comments on how the proposed Walmart or adjacent Annex developments could affect the area has until June 11 to submit concerns to City Hall, 6907 El Camino Real, Atascadero, CA 92433. For information, call 461-5000 or visit www.atascadero.org.