Walmart may face an uphill battle for approval of its proposed store in Westerville Square.

Walmart may face an uphill battle for approval of its proposed store in Westerville Square.

The plan proposed by the Hadler Cos., which owns Westerville Square,

doesn't fit in with solutions presented in the 2002 South State Street study, and local merchants are beginning to express their opposition to Walmart's presence there.

Company CEO George Hadler wants to demolish part of the center and construct a new 108,000-square-foot building for Walmart in the same location, renovating the other stores in the center to match.

Hadler said he has wanted to renovate Westerville Square for several years, but has been waiting for the right anchor tenant and he thinks Walmart is the right choice. Other potential tenants were unwilling to adjust their standard store designs to meet the South State Street overlay standards for architecture, he said.

Even with architectural concessions, Hadler's proposal doesn't jive with the type of retail the city had originally hoped for in that area, Westerville planning administrator Rich Kight told planning commission members at their June 23 meeting.

"A page from the 2002 plan talks about reconfiguring the retail at Westerville Square and making it a mixed-use development," Kight said.

The 2002 proposal calls for an access corridor along the north side of the site and moving the retail portion of the center closer to South State Street, blocking the parking lot from view.

"I think the threshold question here is, does the city want to take advantage of an opportunity to redo the center in its current form, which would deviate from the adopted plan and overlay, or do we want to hold firm and not accept that solution and look at trying to promote solutions that are consistent with the plan," Kight said.

Kriss Rodgers, president of the Westerville Uptown Merchants Association, said she doesn't think Walmart is the right choice for Westerville Square.

"I'm not opposed to big-box retailers. I worked for a big-box retailer for over 25 years. I just think it's kind of counter-culture to what we're trying to do Uptown with single-owner or family-owned and -operated businesses," Rodgers said.

"I think there's a lot of other types of retailers that might fit in more with what we're doing a Trader Joe's or an Andersons, other big-box guys that aren't such a value-driven type of business," she said.

Overall, Walmart is just too big a business for that area, Rodgers said.

"It's like putting a Ferrari on a go-kart track," she said. "It's just way more retail than fits in that center."

The Westerville Uptown Merchants Association plans to discuss its opinions on the proposed Walmart at its July 1 meeting, scheduled for 6:15 p.m. on the third floor of the Old Bag of Nails, 24 N. State St.

Even closer to the location of the proposed Walmart is Roush Hardware, 609 S. State St., founded in 1951.

Matt Smith, a manager at Roush, said he thinks a Walmart across the street would definitely hurt the hardware store's business.

"Anything going in there would probably be considered a plus," considering that Westerville Square is mostly vacant now, Smith said. "But I think (Walmart) will be a negative."

"I'm not a Walmart shopper and I don't plan to be," he said. "I'm fine without them being in Westerville."

Kight and other members of the city planning staff are working with Hadler to prepare his development plan for presentation to the planning commission. Kight said the plan was submitted in time to be placed on the July agenda, but may not be ready for presentation to the commission by its July 21 meeting.