The Poway approved the expansion of the store Tuesday night, putting a possible end to the debate that has lingered for years.
The approval came with a 4-1 vote and amid dozens of public comments both from supporters and detractors of the project that would expand Walmart by 36,992 square feet, turning it into a “supercenter.”
The 3.5-hour meeting included an array of speakers after city staff presented the final Development Review and Environmental Impact Report.
Supporters, who included Walmart employees, outnumbered those opposed to the retailer's plan. Many employees said they appreciated their employment at the store. A manager noted that Walmart provides jobs for 350 employees, and that number would increase should a supercenter be created.
Shoppers were also present at the meeting.
Kelly Black, a Poway native now living in Escondido, said she often visits the city to do her shopping and noted a supercenter would make it easier for her to complete her tasks.
"You are taking an existing site and improving it," Black said. "I would embrace a one-stop shopping center in Poway."
Other supporters included owners of Poway-owned businesses , and —who all said they embraced the retailer and encourage a supercenter.
Though the supporters present at the meeting outnumbered opponents, a number of Powegians voiced their concerns, including No on Walmart Expansion (No WE) group leader Joe St. Lucas, who said he was concerned about the possible drop in sales tax revenue with the demolition of the adjacent Tire and Lube Express to create a grocery section. Lucas said that though he shops at the store, he is concerned because grocery items aren't taxed.
Former City Council candidate Pete Babich said he feared an expansion would turn Poway Road into a "six-lane road" similar to nearby Mira Mesa Boulevard or Miramar Road.
"This decision should really be about our vision of Poway and our plan to improve it," he said. "It will kill any hope for a true Poway Town Center."
Former mayoral candidate Nick Stavros also voiced his concerns, noting that he'd support an agreement with the retailer committing to be open for a number of years—citing the closure of other major stores throughout the state.
Other concerns addressed by Powegians included the effect on nearby grocery stores and other businesses that may see a decrease in sales because of Walmart's possible lower prices.
Despite the concerns, the council approved the project.
"All I've heard tonight are monsters under the bed," said Mayor Don Higginson. "There are no monsters under the bed."
Higginson said those concerned with the supercenter hurting other businesses shouldn't be because many of the adjacent grocery stores are national chains as well.
"These businesses know what they're doing," he said. "I think it would've been tougher to look at this as raw dirt even though it's zoned this way."
Councilman John Mullin said he feared that if the supercenter wasn't approved, it would hurt Poway's economy.
"To me the risk is economic stagnation if we turn down this project," Mullin said. "It's their dollars in our city; it's a pretty straightforward land-use decision."
Councilman Dave Grosch, who led the No WE group until he was elected into office in November, was the lone "no" vote. He said he listened to "all the facts" but felt the change in Walmart trucks entering the store on Hilleary Place would hurt nearby residents.
The vote comes after years of debates as to whether the 19-year-old Walmart should expand in Poway. The revised Walmart is expected to be 179,933 square feet with several public improvements made in the surrounding area after it obtains the necessary permits, which could take up to nine months. The expansion will turn the Walmart into a supercenter, operating 24 hours a day.
In other council business:
- Council members, who act as the Redevelopment Agency's board of directors, adopted an "Enforcable Obligation Payment Schedule" before the Aug. 28 deadline, as required by Assembly Bill X1 26. The bill, which was signed into law earlier this year, eliminates redevelopment agencies but allow cities to operate under Assembly Bill X1 27 if cities pay an annual fee. City staff estimate that Poway's cost will be $10.3 million in its first year. Assistant City Manager Tina White said the schedule could be amended in the future after a public hearing.
- City Manager Penny Riley introduced the city's new planner, Rich Whipple. Whipple joined the city of Poway earlier this week and comes from Solana Beach.