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Duluth plans Wal-Mart meeting
Official: 'There's little we can do' to disallow store

LAWRENCEVILLE - More than 1,000 people have signed an online petition calling for Wal-Mart to stay out of Duluth, and the city has set a public meeting for residents to discuss the project with the retailer.

The retail giant plans to build a Supercenter at the corner of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Chattahoochee Drive, where local residents say the store is not wanted. The land is already zoned to allow commercial construction, but Wal-Mart has two zoning variance requests before the city's Zoning Board of Appeals.

Glen Wilkins, a Wal-Mart spokesman, said the requests are to allow a flat roof instead of one that is pitched and to move required landscaping closer to the store.

While residents have said they think the 24-hour store would decrease property values, bring crime to the area and make traffic worse, Wilkins said a number of shoppers at Wal-Mart's Pleasant Hill location come from the area. A new store will be convenient for local residents, he said.

Joan Berger, who lives in Nesbitt Crossing, disagrees. She said two other Wal-Marts are close enough that a third is unnecessary.

"My feeling is we do not need it in this area," she said. "It does not support the lifestyle and demographic of the area. We don't want a local Wal-Mart."

A community meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Red Clay Theatre for Wal-Mart to answer residents' questions about plans for the store. Wilkins said the decision about the variance requests is due July 25, but that a negative response from the city will not keep the company from building at that location.

No members of the Zoning Board of Appeals could be reached for comment.

Chris Collins, a senior planner with the city, said Duluth has received more than 200 e-mails and other comments about the store. Wilkins said he was not surprised by that number, but believes that residents who are opposed to the project may have incorrect information.

The corner, near Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Sugarloaf Parkway, is not a residential area, he said. The store would not abut any houses and would have a 14-acre buffer of land that is zoned for industrial use.

"We're really wanting to build here," Wilkins said. "It's for the convenience of the customer, the shoppers."

The store, at about 176,000 square feet, would be smaller than others in the area. Unlike other Supercenters, it would not have an auto garage nor a gas station, Wilkins said.

Marline Santiago-Cook, who has helped organize residents against the Wal-Mart, said residents are not opposed to businesses that have a community feel, but are adamantly opposed to the Wal-Mart.

"We're not against growth and development, but a business such as Wal-Mart is perceived as too big for that particular location," she said. "We really enjoy the small-town feeling we have in Duluth. That's what we want to keep."

The Wal-Mart would be the county's 13th. Wilkins said it would be open in the beginning of 2009, if all went according to plan.

Lillian Crittenden, who has lived in the city for a decade, said 20 homes in her neighborhood have gone on sale since news of the Wal-Mart spread. If it comes, she said, she will also move out of the city. In comments on the petition, people have also pledged to stop shopping at all Wal-Marts if this one is constructed.

Collins said while the response of residents has been high, the city cannot stop Wal-Mart from building on the location, despite residents' demands.

"We had in excess of 200 e-mails and written comments," he said. "There's little we can do to disallow it."