Demonstrators carried picket signs reading “Stop Walmart” and “Walmart is not the answer.”
Residents living in the surrounding neighborhoods have been campaigning for a year against the development that they say would add to already dangerous traffic conditions in the block bounded by North Decatur, Scott Boulevard, Medlock Road and Church Street and adjacent to Barton Way and Blackmon Road.
Louise Runyon, co-chair of the grass-roots group Good Growth DeKalb, told the rally that the location is not a good choice for a Walmart. She said the intersection is located between four major hospitals and already presents a major obstacle to emergency traffic.
“At Suburban Plaza, where six streets come together and cross each other at the gateway to the city of Decatur, is the biggest, most challenged intersection in DeKalb County,” Runyon said.
Good Growth DeKalb filed suit against DeKalb on March 15, contending that the county violated its own ordinances by granting a building permit for the Walmart Supercenter.
The suit comes in the wake of the group’s failure to get the Zoning Board of Appeals to reverse the January decision. The panel voted 5-0 on Feb. 13 to uphold the decision for Selig Enterprises, owner of Suburban Plaza, to have a Walmart at the location.
After the vote, Walmart spokesman Bill Wertz said they are delighted partners with Selig Enterprises in the retail redevelopment that he said will be very positive for the community.
“Walmart is looking forward to adding 300 new jobs and millions of dollars in new tax revenue to the county by being part of this project,” Wertz said in a Feb. 13 statement. “We are also excited about offering the community another option for fresh, affordable food and other merchandise.”
DeKalb spokesman Burke Brennan declined to speak about the suit.
“We can’t comment on matters of pending litigation,” he said.
Selig Enterprises said it made every effort to abide by the county’s zoning rules.
“We followed all county requirements for drainage, tree protection and traffic, so it’s no surprise that the permit was upheld,” Scott Selig, the company’s vice president, said in a Feb. 15 letter to the Medlock Area Neighborhood Association, the largest adjoining neighborhood to Suburban Plaza.
But Good Growth DeKalb said it was deprived of a chance to pursue another avenue of appeal.
“County law says if you are appealing a building permit – which we did in January – you must direct that appeal to the Technical Board of Appeals,” Runyon said at the rally. “The trouble is, the Technical Board of Appeals doesn’t exist. So we’re asking the county to create the board as set forth in its code and send our building permit appeal to be heard by the TBA as soon as it’s constituted and functioning.”
Runyon said there have been many close calls at North Decatur and Scott Boulevard.
“You take your life in your hands trying to cross this intersection on foot or on a bicycle,” she said. “You can wait 15 minutes trying to get out of your neighborhood at rush hour or when school lets out.”
The Medlock community has two elementary schools.
Runyon said that last fall there was an accident involving a car carrying four students.
“Luckily the kids were not hurt, but the car was totaled,” she said.
Good Growth DeKalb claims the neighborhood was picked partly for its traffic flow.
“Walmart wants to be at our big intersection exactly because of how busy and congested it already is,” Runyon said. “They seek to profit off our traffic woes and add to them.”
She said a supercenter would make the intersection much worse than it already is and that semi-truck traffic will run along tiny Medlock Road, which is not a designated truck route. Runyon said that would violate the county’s own truck routing ordinances.
But Selig said the traffic claims are misleading.
“Their traffic hazard projections are based on opinion, not study,” he said. “Our trucks will only use the portion of Medlock Road outside our building as an exit for 25 feet to turn right on North Decatur Road, which is a truck route. We will not be sending truck traffic through the Medlock neighborhood.”
Selig said the redevelopment project will be beneficial to the neighborhood.
“We will add only about 34,000 square feet to the property that’s already there creating the Walmart Supercenter and an underground parking deck at the site.
“The development would total 335,000 square feet and the plaza is zoned for 800,000,” Selig said.
He said the project will include about one-and-a-half acres of new green space as part of the complex, adding an attractive feature to the neighborhood landscape.
“We believe there is no validity to the points raised in the lawsuit,” he said.
Good Growth DeKalb, which claims a membership of 300, says it has collected more than 4,000 signatures on petitions against the project and more than 700 yard signs have been put up in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Opponents say DeKalb is seeking a quick fix for its financial woes, anticipating a healthy flow of tax revenue from the Walmart project.
“We believe that the county is ignoring the positive example of the city of Decatur with its commitment to local and small business,” Runyon said. “A Walmart Supercenter will tax an already overburdened infrastructure in an untenable way.”
The county has until April 15 to respond to the suit.