But Mayor Tommy Battle said Thursday night that the study likely won’t be completed in time to have any bearing on whether the city issues Wal-Mart a building permit for the 150,000-square-foot Supercenter.
“If they come for a city permit, they are allowed to get a permit per our laws and regulations,” Battle said during a City Council meeting.
Last week, Battle agreed to pay for an independent study examining what a large Wal-Mart at Mason Plaza would mean for traffic on Memorial Parkway between Drake Avenue and Airport Road, as well as LN Drive.
The Midtown Huntsville Association objected to the city’s initial choice of an engineering firm, saying Volkert Associates is too closely connected to Skipper Consulting. Skipper performed a Wal-Mart-funded traffic study that said a Supercenter at Mason Plaza would not overload the Parkway.
Midtown members want the second study done by a company with no Alabama ties and have recommended California-based VRPA Technologies.
At Thursday’s meeting, the council passed a resolution sponsored by Councilman Bill Kling expressing the city’s intent to hire VRPA “at a point in the near future.”
Huntsville Director of Urban Development Shane Davis said Wal-Mart is willing to delay its building permit by two weeks so the second traffic study can be done.
But VRPA cannot do the study that quickly, said Davis, because it is not licensed to do business in Alabama. Getting the necessary approvals from the state Department of Revenue and other agencies will take three to four weeks, he said. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart wants to keep the new Supercenter on track for an October 2014 opening.
“They’re trying to work with us,” said Davis, “but they’ve also got deadlines to meet.”
“I suspect Wal-Mart will have a (building) permit before we’re able to get the study back.”
The city suggested several Alabama-licensed engineering firms that could do the traffic study faster, but Davis said the Midtown Huntsville Association wants to stick with VRPA. The association is comprised largely of residents of the Piedmont neighborhood behind Mason Plaza.
Alan Simonis, a Midtown member, said at Thursday’s council meeting that VRPA’s lack of Alabama ties is what makes it the best option.
“We feel like it’s the right thing to do to have an impartial study,” said Simonis, “and for our neighborhood and business friends to see it as being impartial.”
Battle said that once Wal-Mart is issued a building permit, the city cannot revoke the permit even if VRPA’s traffic study comes to a different conclusion than the Skipper Consulting report.