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Sides strike deal in Walmart appeal
Parking, integrity of overlay were focus
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Forsyth County News

The appeal of a permit issued for a south Forsyth Walmart has been dropped after the parties involved reached an agreement.

Smart Growth Forsyth County and Laurel Springs Homeowners Association withdrew their objection to Forsyth County’s decision in December to issue a site development permit for the superstore.

The agreement has been signed by the resident groups and Walmart. According to Claudia Castro, managing director of Smart Growth, it’s expected to be executed at the zoning board of appeals meeting Tuesday, which was the scheduled appeal hearing date.

“We came to a compromise,” Castro said. “The main goal that Smart Growth had was to retain the integrity of the Peachtree Parkway Overlay, and we did the best we could.”

In their appeal, the resident groups contended the county unnecessarily waived requirements of the overlay, which sets design standards for development along the south Forsyth corridor.

The plan for the 178,000-square-foot Walmart at Peachtree and Mathis Airport parkways called for nearly all of the 762 parking spaces to be in front of the store, rather than the 60 percent maximum set by the overlay.

All parties agreed that the company has vested rights to keep a detention pond that was built before the overlay was created in 2007 and a minimum store size based on previous site plans.

However, Smart Growth and Laurel Springs, as stated in their written appeal, contended that those rights didn’t prevent the store from meeting site design requirements, such as parking distribution.

The settlement agreement states that Walmart will reduce parking by 41 spaces, bringing the total to 721, which will increase green space on the site.

The store could not meet the parking requirements and maintain safety, buffers and other factors, according to a joint press release issued by the parties.

The release states that the resident groups are “pleased to welcome Walmart to the community” and that Walmart “thanks [them] for their support and looks forward to being part of the community.”

In late March, the groups, Walmart and the county met to discuss alternative solutions. That meeting, and subsequent talks, led to the settlement.

The terms “address all the concerns” of Smart Growth and the subdivision in defending the standards of the overlay, according to Laurel Springs HOA president Tom Page, who issued a written statement to neighborhood residents.

“The bottom line,” he wrote, “is that we were successful in strengthening future adherence to the [overlay] and putting protections in place for the imminent development of the [Laurel Springs adjacent] site.”

Also in return for the residents dropping their appeal, Walmart must withdraw its application for a separate land disturbance permit for a site less than a mile south on Peachtree Parkway.

That permit request was made in March for the site Walmart owns at Laurel Spring Parkway.

The store initially sought to develop that property in 2006 and was met with resident opposition, causing the county to rezone the current site at Mathis Airport Parkway as an alternative.

In addition to withdrawing that site development plan, the agreement also prevents Walmart from applying for a stream buffer variance and requires the store to declare a 95-foot buffer along the property line with Laurel Springs, the agreement states.

Page wrote that the county also agreed to some requests, including that it will publicly discuss the special circumstances allowing for some diversion from the overlay’s requirements “to ensure that it is not used as a precedent in the future.”

The county will also review Smart Growth’s proposed alternative site plans, he wrote, and consider ways to allow stakeholder involvement in cases where overlay standards may be altered or waived.