Commissioners indignant over Walmart median
October 5, 2012
Douglas County commissioners, indignant over the surprise appearance of an 880-foot median along Highway 395 in advance of a new Walmart superstore, refused Thursday to prohibit left turns from Service Drive onto the highway.
Their decision not to approve the resolution followed a similar action Tuesday by Gardnerville Town Board members.
At issue is the median along Highway 395 to create a stacking lane for a new intersection at Grant Avenue that will serve as the entrance to the store and provide an alternate route to Service Drive.
Business owners, already facing the challenge of operating in the neighborhood of the 152,373-square-foot superstore, said the median effectively cuts them off from their customers by blocking access.
Commissioner Mike Olson said he had received “a ton of phone calls” from unhappy constituents.
“If someone took some gas and melted that median, it wouldn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s been a disservice to our community, businesses and tax rate to allow this to happen. I’d like to see some kind of injunction.”
Olson said the board owed it to the community to support the existing businesses.
County Engineer Erik Nilssen said Walmart engineers were following safety standards in the design of the median.
“You would go the maximum (length) because of the amount of traffic Walmart would generate,” he said. “It would be an extremely dangerous situation (with a shorter stacking lane.)”
He said the length also was determined by the speed limit of 55 mph which prompted several board members to call for lowering it to 35 mph.
Nilssen said the Nevada Department of Transportation would do a traffic study after the store has been open for awhile.
“That’s not creating an even playing field for all the businesses in that location. I don’t think that is acceptable. Period,” said Commissioner Nancy McDermid.
Commissioner Greg Lynn called the development a catastrophe.
“Everybody’s worst fears of a Walmart coming to town just appeared before our eyes,” he said. “Everybody got ambushed.”
Commissioner Doug Johnson wanted to know “what our liability is if Greg (Lynn) and I go out there with a couple of saw cutters?”
Senior Civil Engineer Jeff Foltz said it would be appropriate for NDOT to study the speed limit after a change has been made to the road which affects how motorists drive.
“I find that crazy,” McDermid said. “You know there’s going to be a change.”
Mike Fuess, Nevada Department of Transportation district manager of engineering services, said Walmart followed all procedures.
“For three years, they worked with NDOT and the county,” he said.
Fuess said changing the speed limit required study of the 85th percentile, based on the speed 85 percent of motorists drive at or below.
“To change the speed limit and hope drivers will comply just doesn’t work,” he said. “If we artificially lower the rate, it causes more problems.”
Tim Lotspeich, vice president of risk management transportation for Ahern Rentals, said he flew in Thursday from Salt Lake City to address the board.
He said the company’s owner had a 300-acre farm in Douglas County, and likes living here.
He said Ahern Rentals would take a direct hit from the access blockage.
“It was a profitable business, but it won’t be now,” Lotspeich said.
He said 75 percent of the store’s business came from the north, but customers wouldn’t be able to turn into the building from Highway 395.
“If you wait until January to do a traffic study, how much money do we have to lose?” he asked.
Lotspeich said the store’s tractor trailers won’t be able to make turns in the access provided.
Kathy Grant, whose family leases the building to Ahern Rentals, disputed the claim that only seven vehicles an hour turn into the store.
“That’s just bizarre,” she said.
She acknowledged commissioners for their support of the businesses, but asked, “What are you going to do for us to stop this.”
“Some people are so flippant about it. They wouldn’t be that flip if the money was coming out of their pockets,” Grant said.
Commissioners continued the item, and asked to bring the resolution back at a future meeting for additional discussion.
“If we can’t do anything about this as the Board of County Commissioners, what are we doing here? I am looking for a solution,” Johnson said.