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Ponchatoula , Louisiana
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August 2, 2012     The Ponchatoula Times
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August 2, 2012
 

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THE PONCHATOULA TIMES, AUGUST 2, 2012, PAGE 4 Letters to the Edit(,r Local00 Bait and Switch From page 1 about their policies on building fences, buying buffer properties, dropping box culverts, leaving trees and much more. How can we believe their promises on big issues like traffic impact and job creation if we cannot trust them on little things like pine trees?" Walmart Then and Now Staff Reports The topic of the now seemingly controversial Walmart in Pon- chatoula has been discussed in these pages at least since almost a year ago. The following are some excerpts of reports on the pro- posed '%ig box" store earlier and at present. THEN By BRYAN T. McMAHON August 25th, 2011 "...I got the call Tuesday (August 16, 2011) - It's a deal! I have been working with Walmart these past three months. I am very confident. Walmart is in a growth mode now," said Zabbia, who planned on announcing the news to City Hall employees late Wednesday. 'Tialmart adheres to all our requirements," said the mayor, adding: "We know people want better services, better streets. This type of retail store will help us with that through in- creased sales tax receipts, ad valorem (property) taxes, and with increased employment for our people," Mayor Zabbia told The Times. Zabbia said the pub- lic should notice survey work being done on the property, and the presence of heavy equip- ment there over the next week to 10 days. He said that Wal- mart officials will come back near the end of September with a construction schedule. The Ponchatoula Walmart is expected to be similar in size to the Walmarts in Amite and in Walker.'Tve been working with their real estate people since June," revealed the may- or. A major distribution center in Robert will undoubtedly be charged with stocking the Pon- chatoula store, ,Zabbia also revealed, "I'm working with another retailer, not quite the size of Walmart, interested in establishing itself here in Ponchatoula." NOW The Walmart does have Su- perCenters in both Amite and Walker the approximate size of the one being proposed here. The Ponchatoula construction schedule is uncertain at this time and final plans are not yet available and are still being ne- gotiated with neighboring land- owners. The other retailer men- tioned has yet to be announced but two other retailers, Cato and Napa Auto Parts have since left the city. THEN September 8th, 2011 250 new jobs at stake! Walmart could solve, not acerbate, nightmare Veterans Ave. traffic problems By BRYAN T. McMAHON The madness that consti- tutes the drive from downtown Hammond to downtown Pon- chatoula may be getting a rare dose of sanity. In light of the anticipated construction of a Ponchatoula Walmart on Veterans Avenue (Hwy. 51 North), Mayor Bob Zabbia said he is optimistic that Ponchatoula will finally get the highway widening project it has 10ng requested from the state Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD)... "The highway department dictates what they can and can- not do. We have been trying for years to get the state to address the Veterans Avenue traffic sit- uation," Mayor Bob Zabbia told The Ponchatoula Times. "It now looks like we will have some ac- tion on this longstanding prob- lem. "I view this as a hopeful sign. The Walmart project is hope- fully going to spur what we've been needing for a long time." In the meantime, the mayor is focusing on the prospect of Walmart providing 250 new jobs which are much needed in the Ponchatoula community. As to those few who have voiced opposition to the Wal- mart project, the mayor is quick to respond, 'rou can't say you want improvements, but you don't want anything to change. '%Ve haven't raised taxes or fees. How else are you going to do it?" Answering a Times reporter's question, the mayor opined that the new Walmart will include a grocery. As to the many other questions regarding the Wal- mart project, Zabbia said, "At There is no easy path to alternate Walmart locations in the Ponchatoula area The North Hoover road location that has been floated is not an easy alternative to the proposed Walmart site on Hwy 51. Mayor Bob Zabbia's re- sponse, when asked, about this location was, "it lacks the adequate water services to satisfy the re- quirements of the fire department. If it were to be annexed by the city it would cost the tax payers up front money, before Walmart would even consider locating there." (Photo by Chris O'Connor) \\; ! /' ! -- u,  I O,TtOto I .t,om ao m m im I / -- *. ....... ,.,-.v .... Map 6-2, 2030 Traffic with Urban Growth Boundary Map from Tangipahoa Parish Planning Department's Comprehensive Plan(adopted 2008) This map shows the Tangipahoa Parish Planning De- partment's Comprehensive Plan for traffic in our parish. The areas in red are problem roadways with unaccept- able amounts of congestion projected. A Walmart Super- Center development is being considered on the Hwy. 51 corridor between Hammond and Ponchatoula. Alyson Lapuma, Planning Director for Tangipahoa Parish told The Ponchatoula Times that the addition of the Super- center in the proposed location is not what she considers to be "Smart Growth". She added that, " It is doubtful that we will ever have smart growth in this parish and certainly not in the Hammond/Ponchatoula area as it is already too late." the end of September we will have a lot more information." That is the time when Wal- mart officials say they will lay out the construction schedule and other details germane to their project. .NOW The Hwy. 51 changes that the Mayor spoke of have not come to fruition. The Walmart traf- fic plans have been approved by the Louisiana DOTD and they make no changes at all for the southbound motorists other than to relabel the current turn lane for both directions into a left turn lane only into the Wal- mart parking lot. Hammond residents will still have to en- dure the trip through the truck stops and the square to reach the proposed Walmart for the external tax revenues that are being sought. The only real change to the highway will be dual left turn lanes for southbound motorists turning from Hwy. 51 onto High- way 22, which has already been sorely needed for quite some time. A right turn lane will be added also for Walmart's park- ing lot as well. When contacted by The Ponchatoula Times, the engineering firm that did the traffic study told The Times they could not release its con- tents as it is the private proper- ty of Walmart and their agents. Mayor Zabbia's office, however, did kindly provide us with spe- cifics from the Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Develop- ment describing the extent of the modifications to be made. Despite the "few" objections quoted in the original article, a petition objecting to the that has been circulating for only 3 days, as of July 31st, has gar- nered 100 names of people re- questing the Walmart store size be smaller and the Ponchatoula City Council approval process be more deliberate. THE.N September 15, 2011 Walmart working quietly be- hind the trees By BRYAN T. McMAHON Walmart officials are expect- ed to reveal more of their plans for the new Ponchatoula store closer to the end of this month, but the company is already busy "doing a lot of survey work" on the Hwy. 51 site where the '"oig box" store will be located. 'You can't see it from the highway, but they are working," said Zabbia. .NOW Today the plans from Wal- mart are still not clear to the public or even perhaps offi- cial bodies both appointed and elected to deliberate them by August 13th. Trees are but one bone of heated contention in the supposed final site development plans covered in another story in this issue. Man on the Street Report by Cody Abadie Over the weekend various citizens out shopping were asked if they would share their comments on the topic of the upcoming Walmart forum slated for August 6th in Ponchatoula's Commu- nity Center. Though the plans of Walmart for a Hwy. 51 location in the Ponchatoula city limits and the upcoming forum to discuss its impact has been announced in a variety of media, print, television and the Internet, ap- proximately 50 percent of those asked expressed surprise that a Walmart was coming to town. The Ponchatoula Times also gave each Ponchatoula City Councilperson an opportunity to respond to these questions about the forum in the com- munity center on the arrival of Walmart to our town. How do you and your con- stituents feel about the up- coming meeting? What else, if anything, would you or your constituents like to see done re- garding the Walmart issue? Do you feel your constituents are well informed on the issues re- garding Walmart? Councilman Braville Leblanc PLEASE SEE PAGE 5 Dear Editor, Although I live in the Millville area of Ponchatoula, miles away from the proposed Walmart Supercenter, I am quite concerned about its impact on drainage in my neighborhood. It is my understanding that Walmart seeks to re-route a par- ish drainage canal. As you probably know, rainwater that accu- mulates in Northwest Ponchatoula where Walmart is proposed to build runs through Southwest Ponchatoula on its way to the Manchac Swamp. Therefore, changing the existing drainage sys- tem can have a huge effect on our neighborhood even though we're miles away. It is my understanding that Walmart's drainage plan have not yet been reviewed and approved by the Drainage Board. It would be a bad idea for the City Council to approve Walmart's building plans until the Drainage Board signs off on the re-routed drainage canal proposal. Sincerely, Joseph and Lynsie Daigle Dear Editor, I'm still for Walmart Done Right. Walmart done right means new jobs during hard times, pay rises for police officers and fire- men, and tax revenues to improve city infrastructure. It would bring more affordable shopping to our city. Commercial property values would rise. More people would visit Ponchatoula and spend their money here. Done right, Walmart's good outweighs its bad. On the other hand, Walmart done wrong means rubber-stamped rezoning of residential property that ignores unresolved concerns about traffic and drainage while ruining nearby neighborhoods with 24-7 noise and other nuisances. Doing it wrong entails rush- ing to approve Walmart's initial proposal of a 151,000 square foot retail supercenter on residential property without pausing to con- sider whether a smaller store is a better fit. It also means allow- ing Walmart to defraud our community with lies, including baiting our zoning board one plan only to switch to another version before our city council. The Mayor has recently suggested -- unfairly -- that Ponchatou- la people fall into two categories: (1) people in favor of Walmart at any cost and (2) people who will never be satisfied with any Walmart plans. However, even in my Timber Creek neighborhood, many if not most of us support Walmart done right. We would be quite satisfied with a better plan. We want a Walmart that is small enough to allow for proper neighborhood buffers and smooth traffic flow in between our homes and our only hospital. We want city officials to proceed cautiously and fight for us when Walmart demands too much. We want our leaders to rely on independent experts for advice on this unprecedented project, not Walmart's hired guns or our city building officials who admit to believing a Walmart supercenter means a pay raise. (By the way, public em- ployee pay raises are, of course, possible with a smaller Walmart, even a neighborhood market. We don't need a 151,000 square foot supercenter to pay police more.) As with any major development, the devil is in the details. Our unique '2Vlayberry" quality of life is at stake. If we take our time, investigate traffic and drainage, and require natural wooded buf- fers, we could do Walmart right while maintaining beauty, mini- mizing noise nuisance, and preventing overcrowding. The choice is ours. Let's do it right. Sincerely, Parker Layrisson Ponchatoula Dear Editor, I have seen and researched Walmart stores all over the country and have found that they come in all sizes and that Walmart has made accommodations in sizing in other cities, yet this seems to be a blockage here and I am amazed that it continues to be so. I am hard pressed to believe that a 100,000 or 120,000 foot store could not be achieved and give surrounding residents the beautiful wooded buffer they have requested. Likewise, it would be a money maker for all concerned. People all around town are also baffled why this has not been resolved. I read a quote from Sam Walton about not pushing to be in place that did not want a Walmart. He could respect this. So, with this being said, why can't the buffer zone sought by surrounding resi- dents be respected. Obviously, Mr. Walton understood the need to respect those around him and I find it hard to believe that this project cannot understand same. He was willing to forego a whole store and yet the Walmart of today can't forego some square foot- age to preserve the integrity of a neighborhood, a city, and the respect of its citizens and your future shoppers. Explain this one to me. It seems common sense has been replaced by dollars and ' cents and the value of making satisfied future customers and good neighbors has gone out of the window. I can't believe this is the legacy of Sam Walton nor can his family endorse this. No one in Timbercreek has said "no way, no how." what we con- tinue to ask is that things be done right and with the future of the city and all its residents taken into consideration. A bandage now doesn't fix a broken limb. The residents' desires have been from day one to retain a buffer to insulate the existing neighbor- hoods. The reality is that if there was a greater buffer, much of the supposed opposition Walmart believes it is receiving would go away. If people had bought with a commercial zoning already in place then they would have to lump it, but given that Walmart is requesting a variance extending 1000 or more feet off the commer- cial designation of the city, I would have thought this would be an easy fix for all parties concerned. Instead it continues to take on a life of its own. I have been in contact with the Walmart attorney in an attempt to get some information regarding the new proposed store to be placed on Highway 51 in Ponchatoula. In my correspondence, I have asked a series of questions but found the answers to be most unsatisfactory. Here are just a few: Q: what about noise from the Tire and Lube Express specifi- cally the air tools? This was not addressed in the decibel levels discussion at previous city council meetings. A: "Sound levels will be in line with the garage door which face due South towards the undeveloped adjacent property and the de- tention pond." The above brings up a new question: Does it not matter that the sound will disturb residents to the South and/or future develop- ments in that direction? This answer seems to be a prime example of shrugging things off by corporate representatives. I guess they think I should not worry about the quality of life and noise for my neighbors and future neighbors. I hope my council people do. Q: What can be done to give a greater green space and maintain existing mature trees as a buffer to surrounding neighborhoods? A: "103 feet of greenspace behind building and Walmart has agreed to keep 35 feet of undisturbed buffer along the Eastern boundary." My thoughts on receiving this was WHOA! Hold on here, un- PLEASE SEE PAGE 5 EMAIL LETTERS TO THE EDIT( )R  editor@ )onchatoula.com SUBSCRIBE ONLINE  www. )onchatoula.com/)times