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2004-12-10
Gainesville, Ga. Wal-Mart Officials "Stunned" By Defeat

Another set of "stunned" Wal-Mart officials made their report to headquarters in Bentonville that another community has rejected them this week. Commissioners in Hall County, Georgia last night voted unanimously to bury a rezoning petition by Wal-Mart, one night after a similar plan was killed in Sarasota, Florida. The proposed Wal-Mart would have been located across the street from Lanier Village, the largest resort retirement community in Georgia. According to the Gainesville Times, the Civic Center in town was overflowing, and when the verdict was reached, the crowd burst into loud applause. Thus ends, for now, Wal-Mart's efforts to build a 184,000 s.f. store on roughly 45 acres of land. "Certainly, we're quite surprised and disappointed by this vote," said Wal-Mart's lawyer. "We don't believe that there's a legal basis for this project to be denied." But rezoning is a discretionary act, not a right, as Wal-Mart knows very well. Representatives from the North Hall County Neighborhood Coalition charged that the supercenter would have changed the county's zoning and comprehensive land use plan. "I'm so excited that the commission understood that quite well," one resident told the Times. Commissioner Roger Cole voted against the rezoning, saying, "After studying Wal-Mart's application, visiting the site and meeting with community residents, I'm confident that this project is going to have a huge impact on the adjacent neighborhood." Other Commissioners made it clear that the site was not appropriate for a supercenter. Residents argued that the huge retail project would devalue their property, raise traffic and noise, and have a negative impact on many area businesses. Commissioner Deborah Mack told the crowd, "All I did was listen to the people, who plainly said that they didn't want a Wal-Mart in their community." Wal-Mart now has 30 days to appeal this decision to Superior Court, or it could wait six months and re-file the rezoning request. To win in court, Wal-Mart would have to show that the County's decision was arbitrary and capricious -- not an easy task. The company could also try to get the land annexed from the County into Gainesville. As Commissioner Gary Gibbs told the Times, "We don't make decisions based on whether or not there's going to be a lawsuit against the county. After having listened to all sides, it was evident to the five of us that the Wal-Mart project just wasn't the proper answer for that location at this time." The Wal-Mart defeat was described this way by one local activist: "The Civic Center was packed. Approximately 500 residents showed up to express their displeasure with the proposed Wal-Mart on Thompson Bridge Road. That alone would have filled the room, but another 100 to 150 Wal-Mart employees showed up as a result of a mandate by their employer -- with pay, of course. The Wal-Mart employees were rowdy and rambunctious, cheering loudly as the 4 or 5 supporters of the Wal-Mart application spoke to the commission. But when County Attorney Bill Blalock asked how many in the room wanted to speak AGAINST the proposal, around 100 hands went up. Many opponents were left standing in line. We ran out of time to have all of our comments heard. Wal-Mart made promises of tax revenues, jobs, convenience and everyday low prices, but we pointed out the negative impacts of traffic, noise, light pollution, crime, loss of property values and the most important fact -- it did not fit our Comprehensive Plan. As a land-use issue, this one lost on points, as a big-box superstore clearly does not belong in a residential area. Commissioner Roger Cole made a thoughtful and articulate motion to deny the project and it was a unanimous vote."


What you can do: In a memo to residents, the citizen's group spelled out the options now facing residents of Gainesville: "Many of you may ask, "What's next?" and that is a good question. My best guess is that Wal-Mart will regroup and decide if they should go forward and apply for annexation into the city of Gainesville. Remember, if this does not fit the county's Comprehensive Plan, it probably won't fit the city's. The bottom line is that the battle is not over -- they will be back. If we have learned anything through this process it's the importance of our Comprehensive Plan. It is the blueprint for our future and the only way we will achieve the picture we paint with that plan is if we closely adhere to that plan. There is currently a move underway to change the Comp. Plan that will significantly increase our residential population. If we continue in that direction, then we open the door to more Wal-Marts or other big-box applications. Before the new commission can finalize any changes to our Comprehensive Plan they must hold several public hearings to receive our input. That will be our opportunity to control our destiny. We will be faced with the decision of turning into another Gwinnett County or maintaining our rural character. The decision is ours." For earlier stories on this communith, search Newsflash by "Gainesville."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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