ST. PAULS — Cecil Inman was at Tuesday night’s “meet and greet” to hear why a Walmart grocery store might be a good fit for St. Pauls.
Iman, who had worries about traffic congestion, said he came away impressed that the retailer had managed to alleviate those concerns.
Walmart officials might have been able to change additional minds if more residents had attended the meeting at the National Guard Armory.
Inman was one of only a handful of people who showed up for the two-hour presentation that included giant maps and charts on the store’s design, site plan and traffic flow along with experts to answer questions.
“I liked the presentation,” Inman said. “I had questions about how the store would impact traffic in that neighborhood, but it looks like they have answered them.”
Walmart is seeking a a conditional-use permit to build the food store on Broad Street between South Wilkinson Drive and Odum Street. But when the plan was discussed in front of about 100 people at a public hearing on Feb. 3, most residents voiced opposition. The town’s Planning Board voted 6 to 2 to recommend that the Board of Commissioners deny the request.
The St. Pauls Board of Commissioners was supposed to make a final decision on the request last week, but postponed that vote until March so Walmart could hold Tuesday’s information session.
“It would be very disappointing if people did not show up to get some of the questions they had about this project answered,” said Town Administrator J.R. Steigerwald said Tuesday afternoon. “They ought to at least go hear what the experts have to say, then make up their minds.”
Steigerwald said he and town commissioners did not attend the session after speaking with the town attorney.
“Because we can’t consider anything outside the scope of the earlier public hearing, we felt it best not to go,” he said.
William Wertz, director of Communications for Walmart’s Eastern Region, said the retailer had hoped to convince residents that the store would not have a big effect on traffic. Many of those living near the proposed store said that they were concerned about traffic from drivers using their street as a shortcut to get to the 41,000-square-foot market.
“We are working with the city to ensure that traffic will flow smoothly,” Wertz said. “We want customers to have safe and convenient access to the store.”
Officials said a traffic study of the area, which includes a grocery store, a hotel and several fast food restaurants, shows about 6,382 vehicles a day traveling through that area currently. The study estimated that the Walmart store would generate traffic of about 4,192 vehicles.
“Because the store is a grocery store, we do not expect it to really generate a significant amount of traffic,” said Rynal Stephenson, an engineer hired to do the traffic study. “The existing zone is set up to capture traffic off the interstate and what we wanted to show is that there are already businesses there pulling a lot more traffic that Walmart ever will.”
Walmart officials said that they would install metal poles as barriers and take other necessary measures to keep vehicles from cutting through the neighborhood.
“The poles would block off day-to-day traffic, but also have a key system to allow them to be removed for emergency vehicles to get to the area if needed,” said Andrew Moriarty, an engineer working with Walmart. “We are willing to do it, if the town and the residents are amendable.”
There was not much discussion about the effect Walmart would have on locally owned businesses.
Walmart officials have said the store would create about 90 jobs paying an average of about $12 an hour.
The town will consider the Walmart request on March 13 at 7 p.m.