After months of neighborhood meetings, rallies, fundraising and petition-signing, residents who oppose the proposed Suburban Plaza Walmart in Decatur have sent a message to the retail giant.
“This is a war,” said attorney Donald Stack, of Stack and Associates, one of two attorneys hired by Good Growth DeKalb to conduct a legal review of the proposed development. “This is a war for your community. It is war for your property values. It is a war for your safety.”
Good Growth DeKalb, a group of residents formed to promote economic growth around the Suburban Plaza area, is opposing the Walmart there. The group held a community forum on the proposed Walmart property on Feb. 23 that attracted hundreds of residents.
“Some neighborhood associations asked for concessions instead of opposing Walmart,” said Louise Runyon, a founder of Good Growth DeKalb. “Good Growth DeKalb takes the position that Walmart at Suburban Plaza is not a done deal. We oppose Walmart at Suburban Plaza while at the same time we are looking to develop an alternative vision for a positive, neighborhood friendly and commercially viable shopping area.”
Walmart is planning to construct a 150,000-square-foot store that would have groceries, deli, a pharmacy, an optical center and underground parking.
The developer, Selig Enterprises, which was not represented at the community meeting, has predicted that the improved development, which will increase by 30,000 square feet, would add 600-800 jobs to the community and spur redevelopment in the corridor.
Opponents of the proposed Walmart have a list of reasons they do not want the world’s largest retailer in their neighborhood.
One reason is the increased traffic that will bring “added dangers” to ambulances, pedestrians and cyclists, Runyon said.
“We can hardly afford the added traffic of a Walmart,” Runyon said.
Residents are also complaining about the 4-mile proximity to the nearest Walmart, the possible reduction in property values and the wages the department store pays its workers, which they say are too low.
Walmart’s “success is based upon low wages here, sweatshop conditions abroad, limited health benefits, putting the burden on the taxpayer as low-paid workers are forced to seek government benefits,” Runyon said.
“Walmart is a giant that’s breathing down our neck,” Runyon said.
Jan Crawford, who envisions Suburban Plaza being a gateway to the city of Decatur, had a message for the shopping center’s developers: “Be good stewards of our community …instead of being known in history as helping Walmart lead their urban penetration and assault.”
Peggy Sharkey, who lives and works in Decatur, was one of a few residents at the forum supporting the Walmart.
“I think that what we all are here for, whether we’re for or against [Walmart], is what’s best for our community,” Sharkey said.
Sharkey said she is concerned that “it’s being declared a war.”
“I have never been a Walmart sympathizer,” Sharkey said. “As a matter of fact, for the record, I boycotted Walmart for 15 years…because I saw what they did to small towns. But times have changed. They’re not the same.”
Sharkey said Walmart can help address the county’s unemployment.
“Walmart may not be ideal jobs, but if you’re not putting food on the table and you’re not providing for your family, that job is better than no job,” Sharkey said.
Melissa Link, a spokesperson for People for a Better Athens, countered Sharkey’s comment.
“You wouldn’t tell a victim of domestic violence that an abusive husband is better than no husband at all,” Link said. “That’s what Walmart is. It’s not the answer to jobs and unemployment.”
People for a Better Athens is a group “facing a similar fight against Selig and Walmart in Athens,” where Selig plans to build a 100,000 square-foot Walmart, Link said.
“Keep up the fight,” Link said to the DeKalb group. “Don’t back down and never be discouraged.”