A consulting firm for Wal-Mart has withdrawn its development plan for a superstore in Versailles, but a spokesman said Friday that the Arkansas-based retailer is still interested in the Woodford County seat.
Carlson Consulting Engineers of Bartlett, Tenn., a firm that submitted the Wal-Mart development plan to the Woodford County Planning and Zoning office, said in an email Thursday that it was retracting its application for a new store, county planning director Pattie Wilson said.
On Friday, Wal-Mart spokesman Bill Wertz issued this statement: "We don't have any specific plans to announce at this point, but we remain very interested in bringing the convenience and affordability of a Wal-Mart store to customers in Versailles."
Wertz would not elaborate. No comment was immediately available from Carlson Consulting Engineers.
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The consulting firm's email did not give details about why the application was retracted, Wilson said. However, the email came eight days after the state Transportation Cabinet denied a request from Carlson to put a primary entrance on Troy Pike (Ky. 33), north of the Blue Grass Parkway.
In the Aug. 20 letter, James Ballinger, chief district engineer for the Department of Highways District 7 Office in Lexington, said the entrance as proposed "would not be a suitable location for the primary access to this development." Ballinger cited concerns about traffic congestion.
Wal-Mart has sought to put a superstore on 57 acres owned by Howard and Julia Sellers, the applicants to whom Ballinger addressed his letter. The Sellerses had submitted plans and a traffic study to the Transportation Cabinet for a review.
Carlson, the consulting firm, had submitted documents to planning and zoning in April for the superstore on the northwest corner of Blue Grass Parkway and Troy Pike.
The property was annexed to Versailles in 2012, and it was rezoned that year to allow some business uses.
The 158,583-square-foot store would have included a gas station in front of the building.
If a new development plan is submitted to planning and zoning, the local approval process would start all over again, Wilson said.
That means the county's technical review committee would look at all aspects of a new development plan, such as whether it meets utility requirements and regulations of the county planning ordinance. The committee then recommends the project to the full planning and zoning commission. If the commission approves, no further approval will be necessary from the Versailles City Council.
Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott said Friday that he is "optimistic" that Wal-Mart has not given up on the community as a potential site.
"I knew they had a strong interest in being here," Traugott said. "I'm relieved that they haven't given up."
The prospect of Wal-Mart coming to Versailles has generated debate about the effects the giant retailer would have on the city of 8,500 residents. Opposing Facebook pages — "Stop Walmart in Versailles" and "Welcome Walmart to Versailles" — shared posts for followers of both viewpoints.
Bennett Williams, a member of the group called Citizens for Sustainable Community Growth, said the organization isn't opposed to Wal-Mart. But the now-withdrawn development plan that showed the proposed access to Wal-Mart so close to the Blue Grass Parkway ramps was not acceptable, she said.
"As long as it's in an appropriate place, we're not against that," Williams said. "It's not that we were against the store but the placement of it. If it was going into an established retail or commercial corridor, that makes a little more sense."
Laura Dake, another member, said the group is "grateful that the Kentucky Department of Transportation did a thorough review of the proposed development and recognized the traffic and safety problems a Wal-Mart superstore would create at Ky. 33 and the Blue Grass Parkway. Moving forward, we plan to stay on top of local economic development issues that affect the future of Versailles and Woodford County, and we welcome the opportunity to work with local government and other community leaders to improve transparency and cooperation on these issues.
"We believe that growth that is thoughtfully considered and well-planned will help make Woodford County a better place to live for all. We also encourage regular citizens — just like us — to get involved in this community; there won't always be agreement, but we will be stronger if we work together."