Sacramento County supervisors OK Walmart in North Highlands smart growth area

07/18/2012 12:00 AM

07/18/2012 8:50 AM

Sacramento County supervisors approved a smart growth plan for Watt Avenue in North Highlands, and then allowed a Walmart right in the middle of it.

Critics call the big-box retailer the antithesis of smart growth, saying the company promotes suburban sprawl, traffic and related problems.

But supervisors said the area on north Watt Avenue near Interstate 80 needs more jobs and shopping opportunities, particularly when it comes to groceries. The area has been underused and blighted, they added.

The board voted 5-0 in favor of Wal-Mart, right after another unanimous vote for the development plan for north Watt Avenue.

County planner Tricia Stevens said the growth plan will help economic development and improve the quality of life along north Watt Avenue between I-80 and U Street.

The plan encourages flexibility and calls for a mix of commercial and residential development, along with ways of encouraging pedestrian and other alternative forms of transportation, she said.

A representative of WALKSacramento met with county planners and a Wal-Mart representative to raise concerns about the pedestrian safety associated with the project, a county staff report says. WALKSacramento encourages local governments to maintain safe roadways.

Wal-Mart agreed to make improvements to a traffic light and other improvements to address safety concerns, Stevens said.

Pedestrian safety was the only concern raised by supervisors.

"I just want to make sure the walkers are safe," Supervisor Susan Peters said.

Watt Avenue is considered to have a high collision rate, according to an environmental impact report on the Walmart project. At the intersection of Watt Avenue and Orange Grove Avenue, where the store will be built, there have been 52 collisions and 25 injuries in the last five years.

The Walmart will add significant traffic to Watt Avenue, the report states.

Supervisors had to grant Wal-Mart a waiver from the density requirements of the Watt Avenue development plan. County staff recommended the waiver.

"It's a great catalyst for this area," Stevens said.

Several North Highlands residents and business owners spoke in favor of the project.

Wal-Mart recruited supporters to lobby supervisors to approve the project. Outside the board chambers a table held cards saying only "with the support of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors can we bring your family greater savings and the benefits of a new Walmart store."

Supporters also wore buttons supplied by the retail giant. They said, "Walmart – Jobs! – Growing our Economy." A Wal-Mart representative said the store will hire 275 people.

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