Walmart supercenter being built at DeBarr

Rosemary Shinohara

Walmart has begun building a new store near the intersection of DeBarr and Muldoon roads -- a project that embroiled the community in controversy years ago.

Walmart originally intended to put both a Walmart "supercenter" -- a big box store with a full line of groceries as well as general merchandise -- and a Sam's Club warehouse store on the property. It's 52 acres on the north side of DeBarr, next to a Fred Meyer store.

But now the company has decided to go ahead with just the supercenter there, said Delia Garcia, media director for Walmart West. A new Sam's Club is taking shape in Tikahtnu Commons shopping center near the Glenn Highway and Muldoon Road instead, she said.

The acreage along DeBarr that was once meant for the Sam's Club will be sold, Garcia said.

Construction of the Walmart on DeBarr and Sam's in Tikahtnu Commons both started within the past few weeks, and both stores are expected to open a year from now.

Community debate over Walmart's plans for the two East Anchorage stores raged for three years, from 2005 to 2008. Then nothing happened until this summer.

"This hit us suddenly," said Carla Hadley McConnell, chairwoman of the Northeast Community Council. "For so long, it seemed like they weren't going to build."

She said she got an email in mid-July saying construction of the Walmart would start the next day.

Community activists in the Northeast Council at first balked at the idea of Walmart building on DeBarr at all. The community council in 2005 voted 27-6 against the project. Opponents said the big box stores didn't fit the neighborhood or match the concept of a proposed town center in the area. Town centers are described in Anchorage's long-range comprehensive development plan as places where small stores and other facilities are near housing so people can walk to shop and recreate.

During a long and contentious community discussion, Walmart agreed to all sorts of upgrades in landscaping, green buffers and the like. The company won the support of the neighborhood for the changes. The Anchorage Assembly approved a rezoning request to make the enhanced design work. Then the carefully crafted compromise was thrown out by a court, and the deal fell apart.

Rather than start over Walmart decided to abandon the rezoning and some of the concessions to the community that went with it; the company announced it would compress its plan so both stores could fit onto the section of the property that was already properly zoned for industry.

In mid-2008, the Northeast Community Council held another vote saying it supported Walmart's project. Walmart also won approval for its new site plan from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Garcia, Walmart's western media director, said it's taken this long to get construction under way because by the time the Muldoon store was approved, Walmart had begun reassessing timelines for opening new stores to make sure the growth was sustainable.

"Now we're seeing stores built that were planned several years ago," she said.

The Walmart will be built according to the site plan approved in 2008, minus the Sam's Club, she said.

It will feature the latest Walmart building design, she said: earth tones, with an emphasis on breaking up the long front facade with different textures and shapes to make it more pleasing to the eye.

When a new Sam's Club opens in Tikahtnu Commons mall, the one that's in leased space on Penland Parkway near Northway Mall will close, Garcia said. There's also a Sam's Club on the Old Seward Highway in the Dimond area.

Anchorage has existing Walmart stores off A Street in Midtown, near Dimond Center, and in Eagle River.

Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.

Anchorage Daily News