Two days after confirming long-circulating rumors of a planned grocery store in Boulder, Walmart officials insisted they were not being deceptive about the nature of their efforts at Diagonal Plaza.

"I don't think we were trying to hide anything per se," said Joshua Phair, director of public affairs and government relations for Walmart's Mountain Division. "We're certainly not the only applicant for any particular project that wouldn't include the tenant name."

Wednesday's interview with the Daily Camera marked the first time a Walmart official has spoken publicly about the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer's planned Neighborhood Market store in Boulder -- a proposed grocery store that had been shrouded both in mystery and controversy for months.

Last year, property owner R.W. Rinderknecht and an Oklahoma architecture firm filed documents with the city of Boulder seeking to combine the long-vacant PetSmart and Ross spaces at Diagonal Plaza and build a 52,000-square-foot grocery store at 3303 30th St.

The plans contained little information about the tenant, which was identified only as "Boulder (Diagonal), CA." However, some details included in the permits -- including the floor plan, certain paints and shelving materials, cart corral designs and a store number -- aligned with Walmart Neighborhood Market stores in development or in operation.

Repeated queries made by the Camera to Walmart over the past six months went unanswered.

With the rumored Boulder store the target of online petitions and at least one public protest, city officials maintained they had no information about the Diagonal Plaza development's planned tenant, noting they had dealt only with representatives for Rinderknecht and the project's engineers.

In this particular case, since there was not a change in use -- a 52,000-square-foot grocery store already was allowed under the zoning at the northeast Boulder shopping center -- Walmart let the property owner and engineers submit the building permit for the project, Phair said.

Permit approved

In a statement Wednesday, Boulder officials said Walmart's plans are allowable under current zoning regulations.

"While the city might have discretionary review authority for large site redevelopment, each zoning district has development thresholds -- i.e. square footage, floor area, number of units, etc. -- that specifies when a discretionary review process is triggered," officials said in the statement. "This is not the case for building permits or for business license reviews.

"While a proposed use must be consistent with zoning and meet relevant building codes, there is no approval (or denial) authority based on the identity of a specific tenant nor is there a requirement for a specific user or company to be identified."

On Wednesday, Walmart's building permit was approved by city planning officials, said Michael Banuelos, a city spokesman.

"Every store is different in terms of when we announce and what process we go through; and in a lot of cases, we go through a very comprehensive public process," Phair said.

Walmart's official announcement about the Boulder store came Monday, hours after the Camera reported that the company had made a job posting on Monster.com seeking assistant manager trainees for an unspecified location in Boulder.

'Great response'

The decision to open a Neighborhood Market grocery store in Boulder was based off desires to offer customer convenience and price competitiveness, Phair said.

"We have a lot of customers (in Boulder) who travel a great distance to get to one of our locations," he said.

Construction on the store is expected to take six to nine months and an opening is planned for the fall.

When open, the Neighborhood Market is expected to offer a variety of fresh foods, groceries, personal care products, pet items and a pharmacy, Phair said. The customers will dictate the product mix, he said.

The amount of general merchandise will be limited and "certainly no electronics or apparel," Phair added.

Walmart operates eight Neighborhood Market locations in Colorado. The Boulder location is the only one on the books for Boulder County currently, Phair said.

"I think we've experienced a great response from our customers," he said. "They like the convenience, they like the products that are offered and they, frankly, like the competition that they have spurred."

Based on the initial research conducted in Boulder and community response received thus far, Walmart officials said they are optimistic they'll see similar results in Boulder.

"With this one, we're fairly certain there's quite a bit of support for the project in the city," Phair said.

Contact Camera Business Writer Alicia Wallace at 303-473-1332 or wallacea@dailycamera.com.