The City of Wauwatosa, some of its citizens, and its Plan Commission, had developed a reputation for being less than welcoming to big-box retailers.
Some years ago, the city went so far as to pass an ordinance requiring expensive remediation plans from any big-box operator in case they should later abandon a site – a demand that many thought would simply keep them all away.
But when Meijer Inc. brought forward a plan Monday night for a 157,000-square-foot "supercenter" development on the south side of West Burleigh Street at North 112th, the Plan Commission saluted, and no one spoke in opposition.
Needing three actions – permission to combine several parcels into one big one; permission for a business planned development; and conditonal use on the combined plot – Meijer received unanimous votes of approval on all.
Parking and landscaping questioned
There were some quibbles, but they were not deemed pressing enough to delay action.
Meijer, in order to fit a 157,000-square-foot store on the site, came up with a plan offering 635 parking spaces – which is fewer than current city code requires for a retail center that size.
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City planner Tammy Szudy indicated that the shortfall should not be problem for the city to accept. But members of the Plan Commission asked for changes that would result in even less parking.
The city also demands a minimum of 8 percent green space in such developments, and Meijer's plan came in at only 5.6 percent.
In a compromise amendment, commissioners said Meijer should be "held to a higher standard" than that and asked the company to review its plans and find "not less than 7 percent" green space for its landscape plan.
Representatives for Meijer pointed out that would cost yet another 42 parking spots and warned that would be cutting into their projected capacity – but agreed nevertheless to revisit their preliminary plan.
How many grocers are enough?
There have been some murmurs, too, that Wauwatosa may be at or near the saturation point for supermarkets, with Walmart Market, which opened this summer, Target, which now sells a full line of groceries, and a Brookfield Pick 'n Save already in the northwest Tosa commercial zone.
But those stores are clustered near North 124th Street and Capitol Drive, nearly two miles away by road, and there is less selection to the south.
Brian Randall, an attorney representing Meijer, said that redeveloping the Burleigh/Hwy. 45 area would support the store's offerings. He also called the Meijer shopping experience "unique," and said that it would draw customers from far beyond the bounds of the immediate area.
Meijer stores, unlike its other supercenter, all-inclusive retail competitors, began as a grocer and still puts its emphasis there, Randall said. The company escpecially prides itself on the quality of its produce and other perishables, he said.
Also unlike other all-in-one stores, Randall said, the Burleigh Meijer plan calls for about 60 percent grocery space to 40 percent general merchandise – roughly the opposite of the rest of the industry.
A 'gateway' leading to new Milwaukee names
Ald. Jeff Roznowski, representing the district, said that he has a vision of what is now called the Burleigh Triangle, just east of Hwy. 45, as "the western gateway to Wauwatosa, that ought to have that 'Wow factor.'"
Plans for The Mayfair Collection retail center in the Triangle on the north side of Burleigh, with names like Nordstrom Rack being bandied about, and hopes for two other large properties – former car dealerships – immediately west of Meijer's proposed site, would make for a new business nexus, Roznowski said.
"There's an emerging retail center of stores that aren't available anywhere else in Wisconsin," he said, adding that he could see Meijer as the beginning of a linkage of the whole Mayfair Road corridor from north to south.
His district colleague, Ald. Don Birschel, began by saying, "What he said," agreeing with Roznowski's statement. But he added the pithiest comment of the night:
"I'm tired of looking at what they described as Berlin in 1948."