Many honked their horns in support of protestors rallying against a proposed Walmart in Decatur’s Suburban Plaza on Jan. 27.
“We’re raising awareness and we certainly hope Walmart will decide it’s not worth it,” said Lance Netland, who lives in the Oakhurst community. “The neighborhoods have not really had a chance to speak out yet and this is one way to do it.”
In addition to protesting about the potential for increased traffic Netland, who was holding a “More traffic—Stop Walmart” sign, said he is concerned about the effect of the proposed Walmart on small neighborhood businesses.
“It’s going to be a negative impact,” Netland said.
The anti-Walmart rally was organized by Good Growth DeKalb, which is “just a loosely knit group of people to protest,” according to Victoria Webb, who lives near Suburban Plaza.
The 290,000-square-foot Suburban Plaza, located at the junction of North Decatur Road, Church Street and Scott Boulevard, was developed by Selig Enterprises in 1959. The current plans by Selig would increase the shopping center to 324,614 square feet to include the proposed Walmart.
Opponents of the proposed store received a setback in December when DeKalb County’s Zoning Board of Appeals approved Selig Enterprises’ request for a parking variance allowing the developer to have 3.91 parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor space, instead of the required 5.5 spaces per 1,000 square feet.
That variance reduced the required spaces for the development by 517 spaces, from 1,786 spaces to 1,269 spaces.
Now opponents of Walmart are looking to the possible increased traffic as a way to convince county officials to keep Walmart out of the community.
“I live nearby and this is my regular route that I drive three or four times a week,” Webb said. “I see a big problem with traffic.”
Webb said the neighborhood around Suburban Plaza “isn’t the right neighborhood” for the proposed Walmart.
“It’s urban,” Webb said. “It’s too dense.”
Louise Runyon, who lives in the Medlock community, said the proposed Walmart would create a “traffic nightmare.”
“We would have a lot more cut-through traffic in our neighborhood,” Runyon said. “We have a lot bikers and dog-walkers and kids in our neighborhood [who] would be less safe.
“Sometimes it takes people during rush hour 10 minutes to get out of here,” said Runyon, who regularly walks to a local physical therapist. She said it sometimes takes her seven minutes to cross the street.
Good Growth DeKalb is in the process of raising money to hire a lawyer to help with its cause, according to Ann Mauney, a member of the group.
So far the group has raised $2,500 of the initial goal of $4,000 to hire a lawyer to investigate a legal challenge to the proposed development, Mauney said.
Even though protestors are focusing on traffic problems, many had deeper, more philosophical opposition to Walmart.
“We don’t feel that Walmart is about community,” Runyon said. “We don’t feel that Walmart is about being a good neighbor. We feel that Walmart is about making a big profit.”
Webb said, “There’s the opportunity for local businesses to come back in now that the economy is getting a little better.
“While Walmart can offer much lower prices, economic studies have shown … that once you put a Walmart in most of the revenue goes outside the community,” Webb said. “They’re displacing jobs. They say they’ll hire hundreds, but what they say to get into a community is often very different from what actually happens.”