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Group may fight permit for retailer
Wants it to meet overlay standards
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Forsyth County News

A local watchdog group is considering recourse action following Forsyth County’s decision to grant a land disturbance permit for a Walmart on Peachtree Parkway.

Smart Growth Forsyth County disagrees with the planning department issuing a permit that didn’t require the developer to meet all the standards of the Peachtree Parkway Overlay District.

On Monday, the retailer received approval of a site development permit for a nearly 178,000-square-foot store on 24 acres at Peachtree and Mathis Airport parkways.

Walmart’s plan calls for all the parking between the store and Peachtree Parkway, though the overlay sets a maximum of 60 percent of parking at the front of the store.

The store argued that its vested rights in the property, which was zoned in 2006 prior to passage of the overlay, would prevent developers from meeting that requirement.

An April letter from Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard issues an opinion that the store has vested rights for a store of at least 150,000 square feet due to the work on the site to build a detention pond in accordance with county-approved plans.

If the sedimentation control pond and store size resulted in an inability to comply with parking requirements, then that standard may be waived, Jarrard wrote.

Based on that analysis, Smart Growth created an alternative plan that showed a 150,000-square-foot store angled on the property to allow for 60 percent parking in the front and 40 percent on the side, according to the overlay.

The letters have been posted on the group’s Web site since the permit was approved.

Smart Growth member Robert Slaughter said the group is in discussions with 27 nearby subdivisions to consider appealing the county’s decision to excuse Walmart from a parking requirement in the overlay, which sets aesthetic requirements for businesses on a section of Hwy. 141.

The county does have a process to appeal the administration’s permit decision to the zoning board of appeals.

“We are weighing legal action,” Slaughter said.

A September meeting of residents produced a list of nine points the communities hoped to see in the new Walmart.

The first: “adherence to the minimum standards put forth in the Peachtree Parkway Overlay — non-negotiable.”

Slaughter said the county did not open any public discussion on the application for the site development permit “because they’re technically not required to seek a variance.”

He didn’t agree with the decision to give “a pass” to a large retailer on the minimum requirements.

“I’m just disappointed that once again it’s left to the community to defend an overlay,” Slaughter said.

In 2011, Smart Growth challenged the county’s approval to allow Academy Sports Outdoors to have a store exterior of 45 percent brick when the overlay called for 75 percent brick.

The group settled with the business, which agreed to meet the brick requirement.

Slaughter and Smart Growth also have a history with Walmart, after they opposed the 2004 plans for a 203,000-square-foot store on Peachtree Parkway at Mathis Airport Road, south of the site in question.

The current location for the planned store had been rezoned by the county in late 2006 as an alternate to the original site, which was near Laurel Springs subdivision.

The store withdrew the plans in 2007 and submitted the permit request for the county-rezoned property last year.