May 25, 2014

Celanese Road Walmart plan up for final vote in Rock Hill City Council meeting

More debate over a plan for a Walmart grocery store in Rock Hill is expected on Tuesday night as City Council considers giving final approval to a developer’s request to build a new shopping center on Celanese Road.

More debate over a plan for a Walmart grocery store in Rock Hill is expected Tuesday night as the City Council considers giving final approval to a developer’s request to build a new shopping center on Celanese Road.

Some people who live near the proposed shopping center site at the corner of Celanese and Ebinport roads have fought the Walmart plan for several months.

Since first rejecting the plan in January, three council members have changed their votes. Mayor Doug Echols and Councilwoman Ann Williamson have supported the shopping center plan since it was introduced.

Councilman Kevin Sutton has said the city could be sued if council members don’t sign off on the developer’s request for a land rezoning and annexation. Still, that wasn’t a good enough reason to approve the plan, he said earlier this month. Sutton and Councilwoman Kathy Pender have remained opposed to the development.

The plan calls for a 42,000-square-foot Walmart Neighborhood Market – a grocery store that includes a pharmacy – and other retail shops. Atlanta-based developer Steve West of Halpern and Associates also proposes building a Walmart-run gas station on the 14-acre site.

Earlier this month, West told council members that he has significantly revised his shopping center plan in light of neighborhood concerns and Rock Hill officials’ worries that the development could worsen existing traffic issues in the area.

A majority of the City Council voted against West’s plan in January, citing concerns that Celanese Road – specifically at intersections near Interstate 77 – already is too congested during rush hour.

West brought his revised plan back to the City Council on May 12. With some changes made, council members John Black, Jim Reno and Sandra Oborokumo changed their votes to back the development.

For Sutton, West’s proposal for a new traffic signal in front of the shopping center is a problem. Celanese Road was designed to connect drivers to I-77, and adding more traffic signals would interrupt efficient traffic flow, he said.

Millions of dollars have been spent on Celanese Road to make it an effective connector, Sutton said, and the city shouldn’t give in to the “demand” for a new traffic signal to accommodate the shopping center. West has said the traffic signal at the intersection of Celanese and Ebinport roads is necessary for safety and to assist traffic entering and exiting the proposed shopping center.

The Walmart site plan has been redrawn at least seven times over the past several months, West said. Each time, the proposed location of the shopping center has been moved farther away from concerned neighbors who live in Swan Meadows, he said.

Some residents have said they do not want a shopping center beside their subdivision. Currently, the 14 acres proposed for development includes vacant land, a small wooded area, a former day care building and a home.

To quell concerns about truck and unloading noise at the rear of the shopping center – which would face a few homes – West says he’s willing to agree to a “quiet period” between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Though he knows not everyone will support his plan, West said he and his firm are experienced in building quality shopping centers. West helps manage the Walmart Supercenter and shopping center on Old York Road, near Newport.

“We understand how to manage and run a shopping center without ruining lives,” he said earlier this month.

At its narrowest point, the buffer between the Celanese Road shopping center and the nearest home would be about 35 feet. A 6-foot-high wooden fence and a row of mature trees is proposed to separate Swan Meadows from Walmart.

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