Fairfield Wal-mart Supercenter Project EIR

Added by: 
Ivor Bradaric
Summary: 
Wal-mart proposed construction of a 200,000 sqaure foot Supercenter within the city of Fairfield. In addition to sharing all the characteristics of a typical Wal-mart store, the Supercenter would also include a garden center and grocery store. The retail chain submitted an Environmental Impact Report regarding adverse effects that the Supercenter would have.
Chronology: 

2002: City of Fairfield amended General Plan; planned to construct an upscale mixed-use residential complex at the location
July 2005: Wal-mart purchased land, lays out construction plan
March 2006: City of Fairfield released a draft EIR; it was available for public comment for 45 days
August 2006: Fairfield City Council placed restrictions on retail stores larger than 80,000 square feet in its General Plan
November 2, 2006: Project was rejected by the Fairfield Planning Commission in a 3-3 split vote
December 6, 2006: Project was approved by the Fairfield City Council by a 5-0 vote

Background:

In 2002, the City of Fairfield sought to improve conditions in downtown by planning to build an upscale mixed-use residential complex at the site of the former Mission Village shopping center on North Texas Street. The shopping center had been previously vacated and was mostly abandoned except for a church and a few small businesses. Meanwhile, a Wal-mart retail store existed across town on Chadbourne Road.
In 2005, Wal-mart purchased the Mission Village land and planned to expand upon its market by opening a new supercenter at the 18-acre site. The supercenter would include a grocery store and garden center, which the existing store did not have. The existing store would then be shut down and ownership transfered to a new tenant. Fairfield was one of many new Wal-mart Supercenter proposals along the I-80 corridor; others included Hercules, Vallejo, and Suisun City. Before construction could commence, the existing shopping center needed to be torn down. The church and 6,000 square feet of existing retail businesses would remain in place. For project development to be permitted, Fairfield would need to amend the zoning rules in its General Plan.

Environmental Impact Report:
Because this project would involve adverse environmental effects, Wal-mart had to submit an EIR detailing these effects and possible mitigation measures. The City of Fairfield also voluntarily conducted an Economic Impact Analysis in which it discussed financial impacts of the proposed project. The EIR analyzed 13 different environmental impacts: Land use, population, traffic, air quality, noise, geology, hydrology, hazards, public services, utilities, visual resources, cultural resources, and urban decay.

Summary of Findings of Significant Impacts:

(1)Land use: no significant impacts, although conflict exists with the Fairfield General Plan Zoning Ordinance so it would require revision to accomodate a big box store
(2)Population, housing and employment: project is not displacing any existing development; increased employment may lead to slight increase in population and housing needs
(3)Traffic: Increased traffic levels would necessitate improvements to existing infrastructure. These would include installation of new traffic lights at certain intersections, widening of lanes, addition of new lanes, and the creation of a new intersection. During shopping center demolition, heavy-duty trucks would need to operate during hours when they would cause least traffic disturbance, with warning signs posted on affected streets about the construction site.
(4)Air quality: Trucks carrying construction materials would need to be covered to prevent dust from entering the atmosphere. The use of water would better control dust emissions from construction processes. Several mitigation measures would be required to negate the increase in emissions that can cause ozone formation. For example, installing new bicycle lanes and sidewalks were mentioned as options.
(5)Noise: Noise generated by activities related to the retail center, especially truck loading and unloading, would cause surrounding residential areas to be adversely impacted. Construction of walls or barriers between the store and impacted areas could help reduce noise impacts; they would need to be approved by the City Council first. Significant noise-generating activities would be banned at night.
(6)Geology: The building design would need to incorporate best available technology practices to safeguard against potentially destructive earthquakes and expanding of soil on which it rests.
(7)Hydrology: Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) is required to ensure that effects of the store and parking lot on storm water runoff quality will be minimized.
(8)Hazards: Risk Management Plan (RMP) is required to monitor the exposure of construction workers to hazardous chemicals in soil and groundwater. Also included in the RMP would be instructions for how to deal with the effect of asbestos at the site and procedures for how to deal with release of hazardous chemicals in the case of emergency.
(9)Public services: A problem arises from increased necessity of a police presence at the location, and which the Fairfield Police Department is presently ill-equipped to handle. Security improvements would have to be made, such as improved lighting, and banning overnight parking for vehicles.
(10)Utilities: A new stormwater detention system that holds 17,000 cubic feet would need to be constructed. This would minimize the effects of the project's having exceeded existing capacity.
(11)Visual resources: Project construction would involve removal of redwood trees and increased light during nighttime that could adversely impact the visual quality of life for neighboring residential areas. This could be mitigated by planting new, smaller trees, and directing nighttime light in a direction away from residences, respectively.
(12)Cultural resources: Monitoring by an archaeologist is needed to prevent construction activity from disturbing any potential archaeological resources, human remains, or paleontological resources that are found below the site.
(13)Urban decay: If the existing Wal-mart on Chadbourne Road is closed and nothing new is built there, there is potential for an urban decay impact from an empty big box store.

Alternatives:

There were four project alternatives:
(1) One alternative was a "do nothing" alternative in which no development would take place.
(2) The second alternative would comply with the guidelines put forth in Fairfield's General Plan to develop the location into a mixed-use office, commercial, or high-density residential development.
(3) The third alternative would be to construct a regular Wal-mart retail store at the location but exclude the grocery store and garden section components that give the proposed store its "Supercenter" label.
(4) The fourth alternative would be to keep the existing Mission Village shopping center in place but expand the nearby Wal-mart on Chadbourne Road to include a grocery store and garden section.

Among these alternatives, the EIR concluded that the third alternative is environmentally superior because it provides employment and sales tax revenue to the community while eliminating the urban decay brought about by the presence of the mostly vacant shopping center.

Support:

Project support was based on Wal-mart's one-stop shopping ability, meaning that customers could purchase all their items at one place rather than having to travel between different smaller stores that only specialize in certain goods. One-stop shopping is convenient since it can reduce time spent while shopping. The vast amount of land at the location had made finding a tenant quite challenging. Thus many people felt that if the Wal-mart proposal was rejected, other developers would be unwilling to come purchase the land, and the abandoned shopping center would remain an eyesore well into the future.

Opposition:

Fairfield Neighbors Promoting Smart Growth is a group of Fairfield residents who formed to advocate Smart Growth practices. Not surprisingly, they opposed the construction of the Supercenter. Their main contention was that the proposed Supercenter ran contrary to what kind of development was stipulated under the Fairfield General Plan zoning regulations for the former Mission Village shopping center location. Also, their concern was over increased traffic and worsening of air quality, both of which could result from project approval. Large retailers including Wal-mart have been known to negatively impact neighboring small businesses because of their difficulty in competing with low prices that Wal-mart can charge.

Outcome:

After much deliberation, the Fairfield City Council voted unanimously to approve the Wal-mart Supercenter project on December 6, 2006. This was a stunning reversal from previous decisions made by the same City Council that seemed to suggest its opposition to the project. Members cited improvements that Wal-mart had made, which suggested the retailer's seriousness about overcoming adverse environmental effects by mitigating them.

Aftermath:

Despite the City Council's approval of the project, opponents still consider the issue is not over and have pledged to fight tooth-and-nail to stop it from going forward. Linda Faivre, the leader of Fairfield Neighbors Promoting Smart Growth, said "We are exploring all our options. Whether it’s through legal means, a referendum, or recall, this fight is not over"! This case should remain an interesting and inspired debate for some time.

Geographic Area: 
The store's location would be along North Texas Street between Atlantic Avenue and Hawthorne Drive in Fairfield, the county seat of Solano County. This location is just one mile from the I-80 freeway, and can be reached by the North Texas Street and Air Base Parkway exits.