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Planners endorse Dacula Wal-Mart

DACULA - A Wal-Mart Supercenter that would be this city's largest commercial development got preliminary approval Tuesday night from planning commissioners.

The unanimous vote came after the panel heard from supporters and opponents of Wal-Mart's plans, which call for a 184,202-square-foot store on Harbins Road just south of Ga. Highway 316.

Before construction can begin the 48 acres must be rezoned, and Betty Hale told planning commissioners they have a duty to endorse Wal-Mart's request because it would bring business to Dacula and keep people from having to shop elsewhere.

Not since she was a little girl has the city had a place to buy clothes, Hale said, citing how her father bought her Buster Brown shoes many decades ago from a store in downtown Dacula.

"It's been a long time since we shopped in Dacula," said Hale, who was greeted by loud applause after she spoke.

Leslie Buchanan said the 24-hour store would destroy Dacula's rural nature, which is already threatened by recent development.

"I don't believe this is the vision for the future of Dacula that most people have," Buchanan said to loud applause.

Another opponent noted there are five Wal-Mart Supercenters within a 10-mile radius of the proposed location.

The loudest applause, though, was reserved for Karl Vitovic, who criticized the county government for not doing more to upgrade roads in Dacula.

He said he isn't opposed to Wal-Mart coming to Dacula, but he thinks roads there should be improved first. Firetrucks and police cars already have a tough time reaching emergencies because of traffic congestion that makes roads impassable at rush hour, Vitovic said.

"If you need an ambulance, call the coroner. Forget the ambulance," Vitovic said.

After questioning the height of a fence that will separate the store from adjacent homes and the method used for a traffic study Wal-Mart commissioned to determine the store's traffic impact, planning commissioners voted for the rezoning.

The retail giant will spend about $1.5 million to install a turn signal in front of the store and widen lanes between the store and the Harbins Road/Ga. 316 intersection.

"That seems substantial," said Planning Commissioner Mark Chandler.

Speaking for Wal-Mart, Dick Wilson aid the road improvements will offset traffic generated by the store and improve it in some places.

He said the county government has no plans to improve Harbins Road, but Wal-Mart will improve them.

The Planning Commission also endorsed rezoning 11 acres beside the Wal-Mart site, which would be developed with a nearly 100,000-square-foot commercial/retail building.

The City Council will hold its own public hearings and take a vote on the rezonings 7 p.m. Thursday at City Hall.