SNELLVILLE -- By a vote of 4-2 Monday evening, Snellville City Council members and mayor Jerry Oberholtzer approved zoning modifications that will allow the construction of a Walmart Neighborhood Market, a relatively new concept for the retail giant.
The store will be located at 2912 W. Main St. (U.S. Highway 78) in Snellville. None of the smaller (40,000-square-feet) grocery/pharmacy stores has been built in Georgia to date.
The property used to be the site of an RV dealership, and before that, according to some long-time city residents, a Williams Brothers Lumber Yard. The site has been vacant since May 2009. It had already been zoned HSB, the city's highest-intensity use of property.
Neighboring residents whose subdivisions are adjacent to the site turned out in the familiar red shirts, a gesture familiar to Snellville officials when residents oppose a project. Residents in Cambridge and along Westridge Road, about 80 in all, hired an attorney to oppose the proposed project. The attorney presented a petition with about 80 signatures on it to council members, then stated that Monday evening's proceedings were unconstitutional and that the city's Zoning Board of Appeals should be hearing and deciding the matter.
City attorney Tony Powell assured council members that the proceedings were completely legal and referenced several places in the city code that supported that claim.
The primary complaints of homeowners opposing the new 24-hour, 7-day Walmart market were increased noise, light traffic and crime, all of which would negatively impact property values. Some stated that a 40,000-square-feet grocery store and pharmacy is too big for the site.
Walmart's representatives stated in rebuttal that Snellville's own ordinances would not allow light to be invasive to surrounding properties, and a 40-foot landscape buffer will be a huge improvement over the previous 0' buffer requirement.
Marily Swinney, a Woodberry resident living near Sam's, Walmart and Home Depot, said Monday, "We couldn't ask for better neighbors (than Walmart). They are courteous and responsive when there is an issue, and traffic has never been a problem."
When both sides had stated their positions, councilman Tod Warner made a motion to approve the action with conditions that affect buffers, architectural details and other considerations.
Councilman Tom Witts seconded Warner's motion. Councilwoman Kelly Kautz urged other council members to deny approval of the project, since "Snellville has always been known as a bedroom community. Economic development should not come in front of neighborhoods and citizens."
Councilman Mike Sabbagh suggested postponing any action until opponents could review the most recent changes made by Walmart representatives. Oberholtzer pointed out to people in the audience that there are already two 24-hour, 7-day businesses within the city limits, and they are Kroger and another Walmart.
Kautz and Sabbagh cast the two "no" votes to the measure.