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Planners give green light to Hamilton Mill Wal-Mart plans

HAMILTON MILL - Wal-Mart Inc. just got the green light to begin its 10-month sprint of nonstop construction on a giant new Supercenter.

The Gwinnett County Department of Planning and Development, which has been reviewing Wal-Mart's plans since March, gave the Hamilton Mill store the go-ahead Nov. 3.

A 10-month construction timetable is actually on the conservative side. The 203,000-square-foot store at Interstate 85 and Sardis Church Road may even be ready to open its doors by July, Wal-Mart spokesman Keith Morris said.

Don't expect the same blue and gray, cookie-cutter store design of old. Wal-Mart has scrapped the one-size-fits-all approach, Morris said. The Bentonville, Ark., giant has tweaked the look and merchandising mix of its new Supercenters to reflect the communities they serve.

Wal-Mart isn't the first big-box retailer to target the Hamilton Mill area and certainly won't be the last.

Until recently, the swath of Hamilton Mill Road between I-85 and Pucketts Mill Road had been mostly residential, but commercial development has begun bubbling up.

Geoff Koski, a project manager with the real estate market research firm Robert Charles Lesser & Co., said "all signs pointed to a lack of adequate retail" where the new Supercenter is headed.

Wal-Mart is simply filling that void.

"People were going elsewhere to shop," said Koski, who conducted market research on the area last year.

Northeast Gwinnett is a fast-growing area of residential development, and within three miles of the new Wal-Mart, median household incomes average about $80,000.

"Retailers see more rooftops coming, and the high-income households already there," Koski said.