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Walmart Gets OK


SuperTarget downgraded, but still a go
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press
Thursday, July 9, 2009.

Valley Press Staff Writer

FOR, AGAINST - Wal-Mart employees sit at Wednesday morning's Planning Commission
meeting at Lancaster City Hall on the proposed supercenters to be built in Quartz Hill at 60th
Street West and Avenue L. - RON SIDDLE/Valley Press

LANCASTER - After more than eight hours of presentations, citizens' comments and rebuttals during two days of meetings, the Planning Commission on Wednesday cast a pair of 6-1 votes that will pave the way for development of a Wal-Mart Supercenter across the street from Quartz Hill High School.

Nearly three hours later, the commission cast another pair of 6-1 votes to approve development of a Target store and shopping center on another corner across from the high school.

All dissents were cast by Commissioner Johnathon Ervin, who said he appreciates Wal-Mart stores but he could not support construction of one that would be fed primarily by two-lane county roads.

"Smart development means having the infrastructure in place prior to the development of major projects," Ervin said.

Two-lane roads leading to Wal-Mart center "could pose potential life-and-death scenarios" for motorists, he said. "We have a potential for two major projects to be built with the current infrastructure being insufficient. This is unacceptable.

"I do believe crime will increase" if the centers are built, and crime "across the street from one of our nation's finest high schools is not the place," Ervin said. "It would be irresponsible of me to approve a project with such glaring public-safety concerns that so many of you have shared and the data has confirmed."

The only commissioner speaking in favor of the Wal-Mart center before casting an affirming ballot was Vice Chairwoman Sandy Smith.

Smith said she objected to some of the comments made by the "very, very passionate people" who spoke against the development Tuesday night.

In some of your comments, you seemed to indicate that perhaps we didn't understand Quartz Hill," she said.

To counter that perception, Smith pointed out that she's lived in the Quartz Hill area for 31 years, and she cited many shops and restaurants she and her family frequent there.

"I think Quartz Hill is very unique, and if you don't think I know Quartz Hill, you're wrong," Smith said. "If you don't think I love Quartz Hill, you're wrong about that, too.

"We are being accused of being 'planted' here (on the commission) by Mayor (R. Rex) Parris," Smith continued. "Mayor Parris has never told me how he wants me to vote on any issue … and I think it's very insulting to all of us that we're being pointed out as being robots for Mayor Parris.

"I am here looking at what is best for the city of Lancaster, and the decision that I'll make will be because I have very, very carefully and with a lot of emotion and a lot of sleepless nights weighed both sides of this issue," she said.
Also voting affirmatively was Chairman Jim Vose, who declined a suggestion from Ervin that he recuse himself from the decision.

At the start of the hearing Tuesday night, Vose confirmed that his company, Vose Properties Inc., was paid about three years ago to arrange the acquisition of land for development of the Wal-Mart shopping center.

"From 2005 through April 2006, I participated as a real-estate broker representing the parties in the eventual purchase of the underlying real property" for the Wal-Mart, Vose said.

"Neither my firm nor I have received or have been promised any income from any person or entity regarding the agenda items before the commission tonight," he said.

Noting that conflict-of-interest rules set by the state's Fair Political Practices Commission require him to recuse himself only if he received $500 from Wal-Mart or more within the past 12 months, Vose said, "I believe that there is no legal reason that I should not participate in the proceedings" concerning Wal-Mart.

"Further, I believe that I have the duty and a responsibility to fairly consider all public comment, deliberate with my fellow commissioners and ultimately consider a vote on these ending agenda items," he said.

After votes favoring the Wal-Mart project were cast, project opponent Tammany Fields said, "I feel like death has just hit Quartz Hill.

"Maybe that's funny to you, but it's not to me. I will go home and absolutely grieve over the loss of my little town, and I have you to thank for that," Fields said.

Opponent Deb Stuart called the commission's decision-making procedure "a travesty."

While the commission's decision will bring the city of Lancaster more money, "What about the people? What about us who live here and travel these roads every single day?" Stuart asked.

"We don't want Wal-Mart," she continued. "Can we not do anything productive in Lancaster? I go to Palmdale and I see Trader Joe's and all these nice shops to go to. What does Lancaster have? More Wal-Marts, more Targets.
"Put aside the money and look at what we lose. It's not fair," Stuart said.

While opponents cited crime, school truancy, traffic congestion, noise, trash, smells and loss of rural living among their reasons for opposing the two centers, proponents cited jobs, convenient shopping and city revenue as reasons to build them.

Of four votes cast Wednesday, one supported a recommendation for the City Council to approve a final environmental impact report and to amend the city's General Plan so the Wal-Mart and eight other businesses can be built on 40 acres zoned previously for new single-family homes.

A related vote approved the conditional-use permits that the developer, Lancaster West 60th LLC, will need to construct a 366,376-square-foot Wal-Mart that will sell alcoholic beverages and other goods across from the high school.

A third vote by the commission was a recommendation that the City Council approve the final environmental impact report and amend the General Plan to change the land-use zoning on 10 acres so a Target and 11 other businesses can be built on a total of 40 acres of land now used for ranching.

The commission's final vote approved the conditional-use permits that Joshua Lane LLC, the Wood Group and the Frank and Yvonne Lane 1993 Family Trust will need to construct a 160,221-square-foot Target store that, along with a Rite-Aid drug store, will sell alcoholic beverages and other goods across from the high school.

The Target store was originally proposed as a SuperTarget that would sell groceries, but it has since been downsized to a conventional Target store.

Opponents have until July 18 to file appeals of the approvals of the conditional-use permits, and the City Council has scheduled a special meeting for July 21 to consider amending the General Plan and thereby validate the permits.

In all, 24 people, many of whom were Wal-Mart employees, spoke in favor of the Wal-Mart project, while about 80 signed up to speak in opposition.

Because Vose directed the Planning Commission to hear supporters first on Tuesday night, about 20 project opponents became angry and left the meeting, leaving 60 to air their objections.

When audience members began to murmur, Vose threatened to clear the room and had one audience member who questioned his reasoning ejected by a sheriff's deputy.

During separate hearings held Wednesday afternoon, no audience members other than development-group representatives spoke in favor of the Target project.

Of approximately three dozen opponents who filled out cards to speak, only 13 still were present to air objections at the end of the hearing, including Loretta Berry, who helped form a grass-roots group of project foes called Quartz Hill Cares.

Berry said it was "shameful" for the commission to continue its hearing to 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, when she said most residents were unable to attend.

"We realize it's useless to point out to this commission all the many flaws" in the plans and reports compiled for the centers, Berry said.


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