The Burbank City Council this week cleared the way for Walmart to open a new store near the Empire Center, leaving opponents with few options other than legal action to stop the world’s largest retailer from moving in.
On Tuesday, more than 100 people — bolstered by the support of labor unions — rallied outside City Hall and then crammed into the council chambers to protest the planned Walmart.
The show of opposition failed to sway city officials, who say zoning codes allow the Walmart to open so there’s little they can do. Opponents have been trying to force Walmart to conduct an economic impact review and the city to carry out major improvements to road infrastructure around the former Great Indoors site before approving the building plans.
But the City Council voted 4 to 1 to accept a staff report voiding those concerns, clearing the way for permits to be issued.
City building official John Cheng on Thursday said he is not sure when Walmart’s plans will be approved for the permits to be issued.
Councilwoman Emily Gabel-Luddy cast the lone dissenting vote and earlier had introduced a motion that her colleagues reject the staff report, focusing on a section stating that grocery sales are permitted because Walmart is considered a big-box store. The motion failed.
Walmart plans to dedicate about 27,000 square feet of the store to grocery sales, about 18% of the 143,000-square-foot building, according to a city report.
The Burbank Target has only 7,000 square feet of space designated for grocery sales, or about 5% of its 146,000-square-foot total space, according to the report.
Gideon Kracov — the attorney who represents the two Burbank residents opposing the Walmart, as well as United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 770 — said after the meeting that his clients will be considering all options, including a lawsuit.
City Atty. Amy Albano told Walmart opponents during the meeting on Tuesday that an appeal of the council’s vote would have to be made in a courtroom.
Kracov’s main argument is that all traffic improvements outlined in a resolution passed by the City Council in 2000 were mandated to be completed before the Empire Center was finished and building permits could be issued.
“I think we had worked very hard to persuade the council that it should not issue permits for Walmart without complying with the [resolution] for the Empire Center,” Kracov said after the meeting.
Two intersections — one at Buena Vista Street and Victory Boulevard, the other at Buena Vista and Empire Avenue — still have improvement work that needs to be done, according to the resolution.
But city officials countered that the intersections can handle the current amount of traffic until the improvements are completed in 2016.