Current plans for a revitalized Suburban Plaza, with Walmart as its anchor store, are dependent on approval from DeKalb County have fewer parking spaces than required.
The 290,000-square-foot Suburban Plaza, located at the junction of North Decatur Road, Church Street and Scott Boulevard, was developed in 1959 and currently has 1,130 parking spaces. According to development plans, the shopping center would increase to 324,614 square feet.
While county regulations require 5.5 spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor space, the developer, Selig Enterprises, is asking for a variance to allow only 3.91 spaces per 1,000 square feet. Currently, the shopping center has 3.8 spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor space.
If granted, the variance would reduce the parking requirement for the property from 1,786 spaces to 1,269 spaces, a reduction of 517 spaces.
To receive the variance, the developers “will have to show how their project will adapt and change people’s travel behaviors,” said DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader.
The developers also believe the spaces are not needed because the area is served by MARTA and other Selig shopping centers are functioning adequately with similar parking ratios. Selig Enterprises stated that it is also committed to participating in the Decatur and Emory shuttle systems.
The spaces required by county rules are “not necessary because the actual demand for parking will be much less than the number of spaces required by the ordinance,” according to the Selig request.
Suburban Plaza’s current parking ratio “has been found to be very adequate …even when the center was enormously successful and well-trafficked” with customers shopping at previous stores, including Belk’s, Lerner’s, SS Krege and Winn Dixie, according to Selig’s public hearing request on the matter.
The parking variance consideration “isn’t really a ‘do you like it?’ case for the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA),” Rader said. In addition to getting input from residents during a public hearing, the ZBA will receive recommendations from the county’s planning and transportation staffs.
The proposed Walmart is not the development that many area residents prefer for Suburban Plaza, Rader said. Some residents want something that has been described as “Decatur-funky.”
“Under different market conditions, we might see a different proposal there,” Rader said. The proposal is a “reflection of the condition and times that we see today.”
In addition to concerns about parking, opponents of the proposed Walmart are concerned about possible increased traffic in the area.
“The primary reason people are upset about the Walmart is the traffic,” said resident Ann Mauney. “This is the most critical issue. It must be addressed and the [DeKalb County] government must take the responsibility to address [it].”
Despite a favorable traffic study by Selig, some residents believe the proposed Walmart will worsen the traffic in the area where Medlock Road, Church Street and Scott Boulevard intersect.
Mauney and others say Selig’s traffic study is flawed in that it compared the traffic at a full Suburban Plaza and a Suburban Plaza with a Walmart. Instead, the study should compare current traffic at a partially empty Suburban Plaza with the proposed shopping center, Mauney said.
No one from Selig Enterprises could be reached for this story.
The public hearing before the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 14, at 1 p.m. at the Maloof Auditorium, at 1300 Commerce Drive in Decatur.