It was neighbor against neighbor and residents against developers during a Dec. 14 public hearing before a decision was made to give Walmart the parking variance it needed for its proposed Suburban Plaza location.
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.
Selig Enterprises developed the 290,000-square-foot Suburban Plaza, located at the junction of North Decatur Road, Church Street and Scott Boulevard, in 1959. New plans would increase the shopping center to 324,614 square feet.
That variance reduced the required spaces for the development by 517 spaces, from 1,786 spaces to 1,269 spaces.
A report by a traffic engineer hired by Selig Enterprises, who conducted an occupied parking space analysis on Dec. 3 between 2-3:30 p.m., showed that the additional spaces are not needed, according to Steve Rothman, an attorney representing Selig Enterprises.
The 235,000-square-foot Chamblee Village shopping center used 2.23 spaces per 1,000 square feet. The District at Howell Mill required a 2.8 ratio. Both shopping centers have a Walmart Supercenter.
“We’re above what is actually needed,” Rothman said. “Nobody needs 5.5 parking spaces [per 1,000 square feet] for a shopping center. There really is no need to have a huge sea of concrete or more parking out there.”
Melanie White, who had a petition with 378 signatures, asked for a 90-day extension so a study on the impact of the development on the community could be performed.
“In our view, you cannot decide on parking until you know enough [about] how limited parking will affect the traffic,” Parker said.
Studies should be conducted on the impact of traffic on the six-way intersection at North Decatur Road, Medlock Road and Scott Boulevard and the effect of emergency vehicle traffic between DeKalb Medical Center, Emory Hospital and Egleston Children’s Hospital.
“We are not against development, but we are against [inconvenience to] our neighbors that can result in danger both to individuals transferred in emergency vehicles as well as those who potentially will be parking and driving in the area,” Parker said.
Resident Jan Hubbard asked the zoning board “not to change the rules for Selig.”
“I’m not here to debate the merits or the demerits of Walmart,” Hubbard said. “I’m here because I believe that this Walmart … is the wrong land use for this location.”
Other residents said they welcomed a Walmart to the struggling shopping center.
Sharon Johnson, president of the Medlock Area Neighborhood Association (MANA), said the group’s board was very excited about the parking variance.
“We like less parking,” said Johnson, adding that the MANA board is pleased that there will be underground parking and no parking deck in the shopping center.
Charles Pursley, vice chairman of the church council for North Decatur United Methodist Church, said his church welcomes the proposed development.
“We believe that his development and parking required for it…is beneficial to our church and the people we serve,” Pursley said.
Pursley, who lives near Suburban Plaza, said the additional traffic would be beneficial to the community.
“I drive this all the time,” Pursley said. “I am aware of the traffic and I think the development and what it brings to the neighborhood is worth the extra traffic that it may bring.”
Before the vote, zoning board member Bonnie Jackson urged her fellow board members to set aside personal feelings about Walmart and concerns about traffic.
“We are not here to say whether a Walmart can be here,” Jackson said. “Traffic is going to be traffic regardless of what goes in on that corner. What we’re here for only is for the parking.”
Scott Selig, of Selig Enterprises, said the decision by the zoning board upheld the property rights of commercial developers.
“I am in favor of individuals expressing themselves,” Selig said. “But there comes a point where we have a constitutional right to operate a company.”