Over objections of a large crowd, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend the rezoning of a tract of land to allow a Wal-Mart grocery store.
The issue now goes before the City Council for a final decision. The council’s next meeting is June 20.
About 100 people attended the hearing that dealt with Wal-Mart’s request for rezoning of 6.5 acres on U.S. 41 at White Road, across from Eagle Springs Elementary. A zoning change would allow Wal-Mart to build a Neighborhood Market grocery store.
The traffic the store would generate and the safety of students at the school were the primary discussion points in the sometimes emotional hearing.
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When it came time for a vote, it appeared the opponents might have a chance when no one offered to make a motion. Commissioner Jim Taylor finally made a motion to pass the rezoning, and then no one offered a second. That promoted calls from the audience for the issue to be declared dead. Chairman Eric Blazi then seconded the motion, and two other commission members, Arthur Head and Jeffrey Rowland, voted to approve it. Commission member Ben Cambell was absent.
Representing Wal-Mart, attorney David Kirk began the hearing by presenting the plans. He said the application was seeking the rezoning of a 6.5-acre tract from residential to commercial. That would combine with two tracts immediately adjacent to U.S. 41 that already are zoned commercial to form a total parcel of about 14 acres for the store.
He said it will only be a grocery store and is not “a first step to a Wal-Mart super center.”
He also said there is about 75 feet of land, with vegetation, between the edge of the property and the closest residential lot. The store itself, he said, is about 100 yards from the closest home. He argued that an independent study showed that Wal-Mart stores typically increase the value of adjacent properties.
Michelle Herron, who lives near the property and said she has two small children who will be attending Eagle Springs Elementary, became tearful as she described her fears for her children’s safety with the increased traffic the store would bring.
“My kids will never be able to walk to school or ride a bike,” she said.
She said there are other tracts in the area that would be more suitable for the store. She and other opponents also argued that the store isn’t needed because of the proximity of other grocery stores, including a Wal-Mart.
Blazi limited the opposition to two other speakers, with three minutes each allowed, although the hearing devolved into some back-and-forth arguing between the commission and audience near the end.
Herron said after the meeting that she is holding out hope the City Council will take a different view.
“I can’t imagine the City Council is going to let this happen,” she said.
The tract up for rezoning is owned by Georgian Walk Inc., and Mark Byrd is the principal owner of the corporation. Byrd is chairman of the Houston County Development Authority.