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Downsizing Wal-Mart 

City balks at cramming massive big-box store into subdivision

Residents of Soaring Eagles, a southeast Colorado Springs neighborhood in which Wal-Mart plans to shoehorn a 208,000-square-foot SuperCenter, expressed joy this week after city planners asked the retailer to downsize its plans.

"It's phenomenal," says Cynthia Lang, co-chair of the Soaring Eagles Community Coalition. "They're saying there needs to be a lot of changes before it can come in."

In a report addressed to Wal-Mart's consultants last Friday, city planner Mike Schultz wrote that "[city] staff will require the bulk of the building be reduced and multiple buildings introduced to minimize the effect on the adjacent residential uses."

In addition, the report found that the plan is not pedestrian-friendly enough, the parking lot is too big, and the overall project is "not harmonious with the surrounding neighborhood."

Hundreds of neighborhood residents had claimed that cramming a massive big-box store onto a field bordered closely on three sides by the subdivision would bring declining property values, increased crime, danger to school children, traffic congestion, environmental woes and light pollution.

In its proposal to the city last November, the retailer had denied these concerns were issues, claiming "there are no residential elements to this project So, no parks or schools will be impacted by this project."

To Corey Hepworth, a real estate agent who has sold units in Soaring Eagles and lives there himself, Wal-Mart's proposal is ridiculous on its face.

"All they have to do is look at the community and it won't pass," he says. Hepworth says an HOA survey, to which 360 residents responded, found that 90 percent did not want Wal-Mart.

"We're not building a residential development," countered Mike Ciletti, a consultant for Wal-Mart in Colorado, in an interview conducted before the city planner's findings were released. He said that the company already has spent thousands of dollars planning its store on land that is zoned for commercial use.

As of Monday, Ciletti could not be reached for comment as to whether Wal-Mart would continue to pursue its project.

"Obviously," says Schultz, "with any development, there's going to be some impact to the neighbors."

Although heartened by the planner's findings, the coalition remains cautious.

"We still don't want a Wal-Mart," Lang says, pointing to the possibility that Wal-Mart could be "sneaky" and agree to a smaller store, then ask for permits to enlarge.

-- Dan Wilcock

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