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2007-08-21
Duluth, GA. Wal-Mart Trying To Build Before Moratorium

On July 1, 2007, Sprawl-Busters reported that citizens in Duluth, Georgia were up in arms about a proposed 176,305 s.f. Wal-Mart supercenter on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard. Wal-Mart proposed a super store in a general commercial (C-2) zone. The 24 hour supercenter would be located about 4 miles from another one in Duluth, and this one would be smack in the middle of several neighborhoods. According to the Gwinnett Daily Post, residents in this city of 27,000 people are "in a rage" over this store, and have been circulating a petition to stop it. Wal-Mart requested two zoning variances, to change the pitch of the roof and alter the location of a required landscape strip. These variance requests were tabled by the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting until July 25th, and then again until August 22nd. But on July 30th, the City Council unanimously voted to create a 6-month moratorium on "big box" construction projects -- anything larger than 75,000 square feet. The city Administrator said the moratorium wasn't aimed at any particular development, but was meant to give the city time to explore the effects such developments might have on the city. The proposed Wal-Mart "rekindled the conversation," the city official explained. "Reaction from the citizens brought out more of the urgency of taking a look at big-box development," he said. "We had looked at it and put it off. And they brought it out and said, 'Hey, we better look at it again.'" Duluth is hiring a consulting firm to manage the study, which could cost between $50,000 and $75,000. It's possible, he said, that the city could rewrite its ordinances to regulate big-box developments. One of the local opponents of the proposed Wal-Mart told the Atlanta Journal Constitution, "They've done the right thing and listened to the residents. We have six months to talk about the right thing for the community as a whole." But just two weeks after the moratorium was put in effect, Wal-Mart came in to city hall on August 17th seeking a building permit. Wal-Mart argued that it had submitted its building plans before the moratorium was voted on. But city planners refused to give Wal-Mart a building permit. Wal-Mart is slated to appear before the Duluth Zoning Board of Appeals tomorrow evening to ask for an exemption from city zoning codes. One exemption would have let Wal-Mart build a store with a flat roof, rather than a pitched one. Another exemption would have let the store put landscaping closer to the building. The company withdrew those requests, but opponents say they will show up Wednesday to express their desire to see the project killed. "We are encouraging all of those in opposition to this project to attend the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting," one opponent said. "We must continue to remind the City of Duluth that we do not want a Wal-Mart in our backyards."

What you can do: "It's still our intention to build on that site," a Wal-Mart spokesman said. "We complied completely with every single ordinance the city has, including landscaping." The city has said recently that it is powerless to stop the property owner from selling to Wal-Mart, since the site has been zoned commercial for years. The city's position is that it can only make sure that Wal-Mart meets all the city's building codes. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Wal-Mart has been using the past two months to revise its plans to meet the city's design ordinances. The company then withdrew its Zoning Board request, and instead filed directly for a building permit. But the city turned down the request because of the moratorium. Wal-Mart responded by telling the media, "We felt we had a vested right to submit [the request], since our plans had originally been submitted prior to the moratorium." Wal-Mart said the city was "refusing to follow through" and thwarting "the interests of the property owner." This case will hang on the legal issue of whether or not Wal-Mart had a vested interest in its project -- which it withdrew -- before the moratorium was put in place. But the more obvious question is, knowing that the city wants to take a break from big box stores, why would a company push itself on a community that wants to limit such growth? The company already has 16 stores within 15 miles of Duluth, of which 15 are supercenters. Duluth Mayor Shirley Fanning-Lasseter has said, "I have always wanted to keep the "home town feeling" in Duluth that we hold so dear." You can leave a message for the Mayor by calling City Hall at 770-476-3434. Tell the Mayor, "If you value 'home town feeling' then stop the growth of these huge superstores in Duluth before they overrun you. Use your 6 months moratorium to put a cap on the size of big box stores, and they won't be back to bother you again."










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

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