The bitter fight over a Copps grocery store in Grandview Commons was settled early Wednesday morning, when the Common Council agreed to change the zoning to allow for the store.
The debate over the store in the new urbanist development off of Cottage Grove Road has stretched on for months, pitting neighbors and alders against each other. The developer originally proposed a 25,000-square-foot grocery store, but after failing to attract an operator for it, increased the size to 58,000 square feet.
The developer, Veridian, argued the bigger size is needed to create an anchor tenant that will make a larger commercial development of walkable community stores possible. Many neighbors said the store is more of a "big box" typical of conventional suburban development and it would distort the neighborhood they bought into.
After hours of testimony and debate, there was an air of suspense to the vote. Fifteen votes were needed to approve the zoning change. Freshman Ald. Anita Weier ended up being the deciding vote, at first passing, but then being forced to cast the deciding vote.
"I still don't know if I did the right thing," Weier said shortly after the vote. "Because I can see both sides."
She was swayed to approve the project because several amendments (PDF) -- seeking to address concerns over design, landscaping and the development of the adjacent town center -- were added at the last minute.
Ald. Jill Johnson, whose district is close to the development, led the fight against it. On the other side was Council President Lauren Cnare, whose district includes the development. "I thought I had the votes," Johnson said after the meeting. "It's hard for me as a new alder to go up against the president of the council."
Johnson urged her colleagues to defeat the changes in order to protect the residents' rights. "Preserving neighborhoods is extremely important to our economic well being," she said, later adding, "An approval tonight cuts off our options for something in the future. Once you have a big box grocer, you don't come back from that."
Johnson was joined by Alds. Marsha Rummel, Brian Solomon and Lisa Subeck in voting against the zoning change.
The prevailing side argued that failing to approve the project would kill the town center concept, which is expected to eventually include a library and smaller shops and restaurants. "I feel a great sense of optimism," Cnare said. "There is no reason for you to believe this is going to be an empty concrete shell. It's not going to happen. It's a thriving area."
Although the war is presumably over, there are many smaller battles that could be fought. In amending the zoning, comprehensive and neighborhood plans, the council allowed the development to move forward. But there are several design issues that need to be hashed out and will require numerous city approvals.
"If you are concerned about details... we have a tried and true process for making that happen," Cnare said before the vote. "If you don't like [the store] then, we can reject it at that point."