Landowner opposes Duluth's building moratorium
Letter says ban amounts to anti-trust actions

LAWRENCEVILLE - In a letter to Duluth, Georgia's former governor said a moratorium on big-box stores - including Wal-Mart - amounted to anti-trust actions by the City Council.

Former Gov. Roy Barnes said the city's July moratorium on the large retailers seeks to lessen competition in Duluth and restrains trade.

Barnes is representing Bancorp Inc. and Jack Bandy, a Duluth landowner who has had a contract to sell his property at the corner of Peachtree Industrial Boulevard and Chattahoochee Drive to Wal-Mart since November of last year. Neither returned phone calls seeking more information about the action.

The letter is what is known as an ante litem notice, which Duluth city attorney Lee Thompson said is required under Georgia law before a claim can be filed against a city. Duluth has 30 days to respond to the notice, which it received Friday. During that time, no lawsuit can be filed.

Thompson said the notice hasn't been discussed by Duluth's City Council yet and he had no further comment on the letter.

According to the notice, Bandy is seeking $25 million in damages. He claimed Duluth was aware of plans to put a Wal-Mart or other big-box retailer on the land when it was annexed into the city and the zoning was changed from industrial to commercial.

"Duluth and its officials continued to assure Bandy and Wal-Mart that the property was properly zoned for a Wal-Mart and that Bandy had a vested right to construct a Wal-Mart store," the notice said. "In light of all these circumstances, Duluth and the mayor knew and acknowledged from the date of the contract and even before the vested rights of Bandy."

The letter claims that a six-month moratorium on construction of buildings more than 75,000 square feet gives trade preference to Wal-Mart's competitors. The company wants to build a 176,000-square-foot supercenter.

It also says that the ban is a discriminatory and arbitrary result of political pressure and prejudice.

Local residents, since June, have been fighting to keep the retail giant out of their community. More than 2,300 people have signed an online petition opposing the store.

Last month, Wal-Mart withdrew two variance requests that had put its plan before the zoning board of appeals, hoping to move forward with construction without changing required landscaping and the roof pitch of the store.

But Duluth refused to accept a development permit Aug. 17, citing the moratorium. It is due to be lifted Jan. 31, after the City Council has a chance to study large retailers, but may be lifted sooner after a study of big-boxes is finished.