Dacula Wal-Mart approved

DACULA - Betty Hale and the rest of Dacula's residents will have a closer place to shop in a couple of years. A big place.

The City Council unanimously approved rezoning 48 acres on Harbins Road for construction of a 184,202-square-foot Wal-Mart Supercenter. The acreage lies just south of Ga. Highway 316 and is bordered to the north by West Drowning Creek Road. Several single-family homes stand scattered along Harbins Road nearby.

The raw land was previously zoned for general business and light manufacturing and was designated for commercial uses. Dacula's planning commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of the rezoning.

Wal-Mart representatives had held two well-attended public meetings prior to the vote, and the proposal appeared to get mixed reactions from Dacula's citizens.

"We have no place at all to shop," said Betty Hale, a lifelong resident and former Dacula planning commissioner. "When I was growing up, Dacula had it all - doctor, dentist, shops, restaurant, a milliner. Then, cotton production died and Dacula died with it. Wal-Mart is coming here to give us this opportunity again."

Daemon Lauder, a nearby resident, expressed concern for his children.

"Can you promise me one of my kids will not get run over?" Lauder asked the council. "You can put an elephant in this room and put a fence around it, you're still going to know it's there. You're selling the city to Wal-Mart."

Wal-Mart had in its favor their willingness to spend about $2 million on road improvements. Wal-Mart officials plan to widen West Drowning Creek Road to five lanes with an 80-foot right of way, construct three entrances on Harbins Road and install a traffic signal at the intersection of Harbins and West Drowning Creek roads, all at no cost to Dacula or Gwinnett County.

"It is commendable that Wal-Mart will spend $2 million to fix the roads," said Councilman Greg Reeves.

Gwinnett County Commissioner Mike Beaudreau asked the City Council to table the rezoning, allowing county commissioners time to review the traffic plan.

"We just got the traffic plan May 24 and we need two weeks turnaround time to study it," Beaudreau said. "Please treat it as if your mother lived in that neighborhood (near the proposed Wal-Mart)."

Hubert Wells, a former Dacula city councilman, called out to Beaudreau from the audience: "If the county is so concerned about traffic in Dacula, why haven't they been out here before trying to improve it?"

Dacula has operated with a heavily residential tax base for decades. Wal-Mart will be Dacula's largest commercial development, even though five Wal-Mart stores stand within 10 miles of the Harbins Road site. The store is expected to open February 2008.

"We need the revenue," Councilman Gene Greeson said.

Councilman Wendell Holcombe said Wal-Mart gave Dacula a generous offer.

"We get new roads. We need Wal-Mart's services. What more do you want?" Holcombe said.

In a related move, councilmen also annexed and rezoned 11 acres, and rezoned 8 more, beside the Wal-Mart site. It will hold a 100,000-square-foot commercial center with shops and stores that complement the Wal-Mart store.