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North Miami planning commission disapproves of Walmart plan

The North Miami planning commission voted to disapprove two items at their Jan. 6 meeting that would have changed zoning and amended the city’s land use plan for the development of a Walmart Neighborhood Market.
The North Miami planning commission voted to disapprove two items at their Jan. 6 meeting that would have changed zoning and amended the city’s land use plan for the development of a Walmart Neighborhood Market. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

After multiple community meetings, petitions and discussions between residents and developers the North Miami planning commission voted to recommend disapproval of two items related to the development of a Walmart Neighborhood Market store.

The vote was the first of many steps in the development. The North Miami City Council will still make the final decision, based in part on the committee’s recommendation. Despite this, the commission’s decision on Tuesday night was met with cheers and applause from the dozens of residents in the audience.

“Walmart can be a great thing, but is a great thing for this area?” asked planning commission member Jean Castor.

The developer of the project, Retrosource, asked for an amendment to the city’s land use plan and a zoning change that would allow for more commercial use on the site. The plan calls for a Walmart Neighborhood Market off of Northeast 135th Street between Memorial Highway and Northeast Third Court along with a parking lot, gas station, a potential restaurant and other tenants.

Lee Babitt, a representative for the developer, said in his role as a real estate broker he wanted to attract business to the area but said he couldn’t find anyone interested in the site until Walmart stepped in.

“I’m enthusiastic for this project for myriad reasons. Walmart is excited because they honestly and truly believe that this is a community that they can serve and they can serve well,” Babitt said.

Former mayor and attorney Frank Wolland also spoke on behalf of Retrosource and said the plan would create jobs and benefit the city.

“Both opportunities to shop and save money as well as opportunities to save money and opportunities to create jobs,” Wolland said.

But many of the residents, who wore red shirts to symbolize their opposition to the project, continued to express concerns that the store would increase traffic and crime and reduce property values.

Residents like Jose Rivera said the developers would likely oppose the plan if it was proposed in their community.

“These people just want to make money. They don’t live in our neighborhood and if they did they’d be on our side of the fence,” Rivera said.

Other residents, like Dan Schneiger, said they didn’t oppose commercial development at the site, but only if it remained within the commercial zones of the property. Schneiger, a former senior project architect with Target, said the neighborhood market store will also negatively impact other local businesses and neighboring homes that currently sit on the residential parcels.

“I’m not against retail on this site but any retail that goes on there should be built within the current zoning,” Schneiger said.

Charles Ernst, another planning commission member, said the current plan wasn’t creative enough.

“To me, it’s up to a developer to come in with a creative idea,” Ernst said. “If putting in a supermarket, a gas station and a fast food chain is something that the developer thinks is creative, I think he has a problem.”

Walmart said it will continue to work with Retrosource and the city and encouraged residents to visit other stores that have opened recently, like the neighborhood market in Miami Gardens.

“If approved as part of Retrosource’s development plans, our North Miami neighborhood market will provide new job opportunities and much needed access to affordable grocery options to the area,” Amanda Henneberg, Walmart’s senior communications manager, said in a statement. “As a proposed tenant of the development, we will continue working with Retrosource to engage the local community.”

Wolland said the developer will continue to hear and consider the community’s opinions as they prepare the plan for the City Council’s vote.

“It has always been our consideration to give a voice to the community and we’ll see where things go from here,” Wolland said after the meeting.