A plan to site a fourth grocery store at the corner of McKee and Fitchrona Roads has earned the city’s approval.
That’s the first step for Meijer, a Grand Rapids, Michigan-based company that is working with the city to develop the 60-acre parcel opposite the Wingra Stone quarry.
The Common Council unanimously approved a comprehensive development plan for the site at its Tuesday, July 28, meeting. Two alders, Joe Maldonado (Dist. 1) and Julia Arata-Fratta (D-2), abstained, saying they wanted more information from the company.
The approval came after an hour of discussion, with some alders initially expressing uncertainty about the prospect of a Meijer at that location before voting to support it.
This is the second Meijer proposal in Dane County in the last few months. The day before the proposed 159,000-square foot Fitchburg store proposal was provided to the city on June 30, Meijer also proposed a site in Sun Prairie near the Woodman’s and Costco on the west side.
Maldonado questioned the location being within a mile of four other grocery stores – a SuperTarget, a Hy-Vee and an Aldi across McKee Road, and a Pick ‘n Save on Maple Grove Road – and said he wanted to see more locally owned companies that are tailored to the needs of local residents.
Maldonado, whose wife owns Luna’s Groceries in an underserved area in the Allied Drive/Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood, added that this location did not address other places in Fitchburg that are a “food desert.”
“There’s a lot of areas in our city that lack close access to grocery stores,” he said. “There are a lot of really large companies, and that’s fine; however, there’s a lack of companies that are both locally owned and are specifically tailored to the needs to the bulk of residents.”
Three residents registered in opposition to the grocery store, all of whom urged the city to address other food deserts. One claimed that allowing a corporation to develop that parcel perpetuates systemic racism, as it would not address the needs of the residents in the Verona Road West neighborhood.
Ald. Dorothy Krause (D-1) said she had concerns about the environmental characteristics of the site.
She added that one of the main positives of putting a grocery store there is residents in the Verona Road West neighborhood would not need to make the “treacherous” trip across McKee Road to access a grocery store, and that the Meijer development was along the lines of what the owner would like to see that parcel used for as a part of the Anton Drive redevelopment plan.
“I know this is what he wants, and he’s not going to move forward on the rest of the surrounding properties until this gets settled out,” she said.
Other concerns involved the complexity of the site, and what would need to be done in order to make the site buildable. Meijer real estate manager Ashley Mack said that in addition to grading issues on the land, there would need to be soil remediation and a retaining wall put in, as well as stormwater management.
Because of the challenges posed by the property, Mack said, it will be expensive for Meijer to build on it, and would basically be cost prohibitive for any local business owners.
Ald. Gabriella Gerhardt (D-2) said that the city needed to focus on finding solutions to food deserts, but argued that finding ways to attract stores to underserved areas is a separate issue from the Meijer proposal.
“When I think about developing an area, it seems like it would be a difficult thing for a small business to develop, just given the complexity of that area,” she said. “It seems like a good opportunity for the city to actually fill this lot in a way that it might not be filled otherwise.”