Use due care in developing Walmart

July 6, 2012 

WHILE COLUMBIA’S sale of the publicly owned Capital City Stadium all but ensures that a Walmart shopping center will one day operate along Assembly Street, questions remain about the development’s impact on the environment, traffic and character of the area.

They are questions that developer Bright Meyers LLC and city officials must address adequately. As we stressed before, City Council is the people’s custodian over this property and must meet a higher standard than a private entity would in determining its future. It would be irresponsible for city officials to relinquish property owned by the public for a use that would harm the environment and community.

To be fair, City Council has exercised at least some level of caution to this point. Although a majority of its members favored the sale, the council responded to understandable concern from environmentalists, neighbors and activists and postponed action twice. First, it delayed a vote to talk with Bright Meyers and collect more information. But questions still remained, so the council agreed to wait until a $100,000 study of the entire Rocky Branch Creek watershed was conducted before acting.

Although some activists remain skeptical, a $100,000 study said the shopping center would not cause more flooding. Consultant AMEC’s study concluded that construction proposed by Bright Meyers in a conceptual plan “will have essentially no effect on the base flood elevations” and the 100-year flood level.

Bright Meyers has pledged to make improvements that would reduce, not worsen, flooding and pollution along Rocky Branch. In addition to taking steps to protect its property, the developer has agreed to contribute money to help alleviate flooding downstream. When City Council authorized the city manager to sign a $1 million sales contract for the 5.6-acre stadium site, it required Bright Meyers to “financially assist” in making stormwater improvements off site and in the development of a greenway along the creek.

What is unclear is just how much the Atlanta company will kick in. Observers will be watching closely to see how helpful it is in defraying the cost of what promises to be an expensive effort to deal with flooding along the Rocky Branch basin.

As the developer clarifies plans for the property and seeks applicable government permits, local officials must ensure that environmental and other issues are carefully considered. Also, Columbia and Richland County must work together to provide proper enforcement of stormwater regulations.

We aren’t sure whether selling this property to Bright Meyers was wise. At the same time, we don’t have the expertise to suggest that a Walmart or other development would exact great harm on the environment and community.

But it’s evident that this land was destined to be sold and ultimately developed one day. While some in the community have requested that it be set aside as a park or natural area, it’s understandable that a council in a city where so much property is off the tax rolls would consider reasonable offers that could lead to a development that would increase commerce and add to the public’s coffers. What’s most important at this point is ensuring that it be done in a safe, environmentally friendly manner.

This bears watching.

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