Facing uphill battle in Duluth, Wal-Mart changes plans

LAWRENCEVILLE - Wal-Mart has taken steps to make it easier for the company to build a new supercenter in Duluth. But a moratorium on all large buildings in the city means construction plans still cannot go forward.

The retail giant withdrew two requests Friday that would have let the company change required landscaping and the roof pitch of the store if approved by the city's Zoning Board of Appeals. The request was due to have been heard Wednesday.

The variances were the only thing keeping the company from building a store on land at the corner of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Chattahoochee Drive that is already zoned for businesses.

But now, a moratorium on buildings more than 75,000 square feet is keeping the company from moving forward with the project, Wal-Mart spokesman Glen Wilkins said. An attempt Friday to apply for building permits for the planned 176,000-square-foot building was rebuffed by planners because of the moratorium.

"They did attempt to apply Friday, but we did not accept their application," Duluth Senior Planner Chris Collins said.

Collins said the moratorium is due to be lifted Jan. 31, after the council has a chance to study large retailers, but may be lifted before that if the study comes back sooner. The city is seeking proposals, which are due Thursday, and a company to perform the study will be selected Monday.

Neighbors protesting the supercenter said they still intend to show up at Wednesday's meeting and Monday's City Council session in force.

"We're still here, we're still moving forward," Marline Santiago-Cook said. "People are not giving up. We still believe there is something we can do, that we stand a chance of winning."

Wilkins said by withdrawing the variances, Wal-Mart intends to comply with city requirements. He said allowing the variance requests would make the project look nicer, but the company is willing to do whatever Duluth wants.

"At this point, we want to comply," he said. "We aren't trying to skate around anything. We're hoping to get the same respect and same communication from the city back to us."

Wilkins said Wal-Mart has been a good citizen, providing jobs in the area and volunteers and funds to different organizations. The city's delay, he said, has only created problems for the man who owns the property. Wilkins said Wal-Mart still intends to build on the land.

Collins said the moratorium will give the city a chance to "catch our breath" regarding the many protests to Wal-Mart's construction. He received several hundred comments about the store, more than for any other project. Additionally, more than 2,000 people have signed an online petition protesting the store.

Residents against what would be the county's 13th store, slated to open in 2009, claim that two other nearby Wal-Marts already serve the community's needs.

"There are counties that have won," Santiago-Cook said. "We're hoping to be one of those."