The City Council narrowly approved a rezoning application Tuesday that will allow a Wal-Mart grocery store, but opponents did not go down without a fight.
The council voted 4-3, with Mayor Randy Toms breaking the tie, to approve the rezoning. Council members Mike Davis, Carolyn Robbins and Keith Lauritsen voted to approve, with council members Chuck Shaheen, Clifford Homes and Tim Thomas voting against.
Some of the opponents hired an attorney, Jerry Lumley of Macon. Lumley spoke to the council at length in the pre-council meeting, as did David Kirk, the attorney for Wal-Mart.
Lumley said the store, which will have a pharmacy, would violate a state law that forbids dispensing controlled drugs within 1,000 feet of a school. The property is at the corner of U.S. 41 and White Road, on the opposite side of Arrie Road from Eagle Springs Elementary School.
“This is not a viable use,” he said. “As long as that school is right there, it will never be a viable use.”
Kirk said he knows of several pharmacies within 1,000 feet of a school, and had never heard of the state law Lumley referred to being used to prohibit operation of a pharmacy.
Lumley cited various other legal and safety concerns. He also raised the issue of conflict of interest because of relations some council members and zoning board members have with the property owner. He later said he was not specifically accusing any person of conflict of interest, but asked the members to consider whether the relations would influence their vote.
The property is owned by Georgian Walk Inc., and Mark Byrd is the owner. Byrd is owner of Houston Lake Country Club and is chairman of the Houston County Development Authority. Byrd said earlier that the authority has no involvement in the Wal-Mart project.
Byrd told the council there has been a “spirit of cooperation” to make the project work for the community. He said in the meeting that he has been upset about the allegations that opponents of the project have made.
“It really is not acceptable because that has not been the spirit of the process,” he said. “It has been quite disappointing. We are trying to orchestrate this commercial development to have minimal impact.”
Toms acknowledged that he has been accused of conflict of interest because he is a member of Houston Lake Country Club.
“That did not influence my vote at all,” he said after the meeting.
When it came time for the vote, Shaheen initially made a motion to table the issue to have further talks with Wal-Mart to address concerns of the neighbors. That motion failed along the same voting line that followed on the motion that approved the rezoning.
Lumley said he has not discussed with his clients whether to take legal action to stop the project.
The store would be the third Neighborhood Market in Warner Robins. The store is a standalone grocery store. The other two opened last year.
Kirk said the store will employ between 90 and 100 people, with a majority of those full-time and starting pay at $10 an hour. Based on the other two stores, he said Wal-Mart is expecting to get about 1,000 applications.