Barbara Davis found what she thought was her dream home three years ago when she moved to Madison from St. Louis and bought a home in Grandview Commons, on the city's far east side. Now she worries that the addition of a large grocery store could turn that dream into a nightmare.
"The area was built on the values of nostalgia - that's neat and romantic," Davis says of Grandview Commons, billed as an "all-inclusive living environment" in the New Urbanist tradition. "Super box stores didn't exist 20 years ago, and we don't want one here."
Developers have pitched a 62,000-square-foot Copps store (see "Neighbors critique plan for new Copps store at Grandview Commons") to help anchor a town center and attract other retail. In response, neighbors including Davis have formed "Grandview Commons Neighbors for Responsible Development," which seeks to reduce the scope of the project (see "Neighbors vow to fight Copps grocery store in Grandview Commons").
According to Davis, the proposed store is much larger than what was suggested when she and others first bought their homes: "The image presented to us was 25,000 square feet, similar to a Trader Joe's or a Brennan's."
Group members have taken aim at Veridian Homes, the neighborhood's developer. But David Simon, the company's president of operations, says Veridian never promised a grocery store at all: "I don't do grocery stores. What we know well is residential, and the realities of the marketplace now suggest they need a successful grocery store in that neighborhood."
Simon says a larger store is needed to spur further retail success, and could even reduce trips outside the area. A smaller store would not meet the needs of residents, meaning they'd have to go outside the neighborhood to do their shopping, as now.
"Everybody's tastes are different," says Simon. "We believe we're proposing a good, well-designed store that fits in the character of the community."
Opponents charge that added traffic will detract from the neighborhood's safe, family-friendly environment. But Simon says the main arterial streets, like Cottage Grove near the proposed building, were specifically designed to handle the traffic.
Finally, a large grocery store would provide an economic anchor to the development. Simon and others suggest the failure of a nearby coffeeshop owes to the lack of a catalyst to support other retail.
"There are some parallels to Middleton Hills," notes Simon, referring to the planned community in Middleton, which also ended up putting in a Copps. "They tried to do their commercial concept without an anchor. They put in their own small food market, it didn't have enough variety and people using it, and failed."
Ald. Lauren Cnare, whose district includes Grandview Commons, supports the grocery store, which she thinks will add to the neighborhood's walkability and provide vital grocery services to the area.
"We have acknowledged size concerns from the beginning," Cnare says. "What's not realistic is a 25,000-square-foot grocery store."
Cnare hopes critics of the project will not try to derail the process. "It's important not to denigrate, but participate," she says. "This is a catalyst. It's always been part of the plan. It'd be a shame to let it go down in flames without even seeing the final proposal."
The McClellan Park Neighborhood Association is taking part in the planning process but has not come out for or against the current proposal.
"We're obviously concerned about traffic and overall size, because it's a different plan than was initially planned for 10 years ago," says Alisa Allen, association board president.
The Madison Plan Commission will hold an informational presentation on the proposal on Monday, April 26. The meeting will include opportunities for public comment, says Tim Parks of city planning, but the commission will not be taking any formal action.