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Wal-Mart uproar: City says it isn't liable for $25M

LAWRENCEVILLE - Duluth's attorney said in a letter that the city is not liable for $25 million a landowner has claimed in damages because of a big-box moratorium.

City attorney Lee Thompson, responding to a Aug. 28 notice sent by landowner Jack Bandy's attorney, said he saw "absolutely no basis for any claim of monetary damages whatsoever" in an ante litem notice sent to Duluth. The notice is a precursor to a lawsuit.

Former governor Roy Barnes is representing Bandy, who owns land at the corner of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Chattahoochee Drive, where Wal-Mart is trying to build a 176,000-square-foot store. Barnes did not return a phone call seeking comment on the possibility of a lawsuit.

Since June, a group of residents has been trying to stop Wal-Mart's construction on land that is already zoned for commercial businesses. In July, the city enacted a big-box moratorium that has stopped projects over 75,000 square feet from going forward. That moratorium is due to be lifted in January.

After city planners refused to grant a building permit to the retailer in August, Wal-Mart filed an appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals that will be heard later this month. Three residents' appeals, including one by the group Smart Growth Gwinnett, will also be heard at the board's Oct. 24 meeting.

Thompson said the appeals question why Wal-Mart was granted permission to use a larger brick in construction and change the pitch of the building's roof.

Since sending the Sept. 25 letter, he has not received a response from Barnes, Thompson said. In the letter, he said Duluth believes the moratorium was enacted properly and is valid and enforceable.

Because of the appeals that have been filed, Thompson said any claims of damages against Duluth would be premature until solutions within the city had been exhausted.

If the Zoning Board of Appeals determines that variances are required for any of the claims, they would be heard Nov. 28.

SideBar: If You Go

What: Duluth Zoning Board of Appeals

When: 7 p.m. Oct. 24

Where: Duluth City Hall, 3578 W. Lawrenceville St.