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Smart Growth appeals retailer's permit
Group wants Walmart held to overlay standards
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Forsyth County News

The Forsyth County Zoning Board of Appeals will hear arguments about a county decision to grant a land disturbance permit for a planned Walmart in south Forsyth.

At issue are the store’s plans for a supercenter versus the aesthetic requirements of the county’s Peachtree Parkway overlay district.

Smart Growth Forsyth County, along with the Laurel Springs Homeowners Association and resident Ernest Turner, appealed the planning department’s decision to issue a permit based on a site plan that does not meet all the overlay’s requirements.

The appeal hearing is scheduled for the March 5 meeting of the zoning board of appeals.

The application, submitted Friday, states that Walmart’s plans for store size, amount of parking and the distribution of those spaces do not meet the overlay requirements and should not be exempted.

In early January, 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 nearly all of the 762 parking spaces to fall between the store and Peachtree Parkway, though the overlay sets a maximum of 60 percent of parking at the front.

The store argued that it had vested rights in the property, which was zoned and had a detention pond built prior to the overlay’s creation.

Smart Growth and the other parties, as stated in the written appeal, contend “that the vested rights of the developer do not exempt Walmart from the site design requirements if the PPOD.”

The retailer should be required to follow the overlay, the appeal states, which would allow for a maximum store size of 125,000 square feet with 300 parking spaces in front and 200 on the side.

At a January meeting of Smart Growth, deputy director Robert Slaughter said neither the property owner nor Walmart had shown the group why the overlay parking requirements couldn’t be met.

Slaughter also cited a letter from the county attorney that issued an opinion that Walmart had vested rights for a store of at least 150,000 square feet, though the parking requirements could be affected by the existing pond.

He was not sure why a larger store had been allowed in the plans when a smaller one would have met the developer’s rights and increased the ability to meet the parking requirements.

“It’s not [the county’s] job to make Walmart competitive,” he said.

The decision to issue the permit had been done with county staff and the developer in closed meetings, he said, but filing an appeal “forces the issue into the public domain.”

Turner, also part of the appeal, said at the organization’s January meeting that the overlay district should be upheld because it provides an attractive area to promote business growth and maintain high property values.

He added that the group isn’t trying to stop Walmart, but rather to work with the retailer to find ways to comply with the overlay.

Smart Growth, which voted unanimously to file an appeal, hoped the public forum would make that discussion accessible to the community.