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Talks center on Walmart appeal
Matter likely shifting to May
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Forsyth County News

The parties involved in an appeal over a planned south Forsyth Walmart met Thursday to discuss the issues.

Smart Growth Forsyth County and the Laurel Springs Homeowners Association are appealing the Forsyth County planning department’s January issuance of a site development permit for the retailer.

The store received a permit for a nearly 178,000-square-foot building on a 24-acre site at Peachtree and Mathis Airport parkways.

The groups contend the county should require the store to meet all the standards of the Peachtree Parkway Overlay District, which sets aesthetic requirements for retail along the south Forsyth corridor.

Tom Page, president of the Laurel Springs HOA, felt “hopeful” after the meeting that the sides could reach a resolution and avoid having an appeal hearing.

“It was a very collaborative discussion focused very clearly on trying to solve the issues on the table,” Page said. “Everybody who’s involved in the projects and also has been involved in the appeal was [represented] in the discussion.”

That included Walmart, Forsyth County, the developer, Laurel Springs and Smart Growth, according to Page.

The hearing remains on the schedule for the Tuesday meeting of the county’s zoning board of appeals, but that is expected to be postponed to May 7 to allow time to pursue the details of the collaborative discussion, Page said.

He emphasized that the subdivision does not want to block Walmart from building in south Forsyth.

“We definitely want Walmart in the area. We love the location that they’re looking at on Mathis Airport Road,” he said. “We’re just trying to make sure we protect the Peachtree Parkway Overlay … so the additional growth, which will probably increase as a result of Walmart and companies like that coming into the area, is managed in a way that is supportive of the needs of residents of Laurel Springs and other neighborhoods.”

A representative of Walmart did not return a call seeking comment Friday.

The primary issue of the appeal is a deviation from the overlay parking requirements allowed in Walmart’s development permit.

The retailer’s plan calls for nearly all the parking to be in front of the store, rather than the 60 percent maximum set by the overlay.

The company maintains it has vested rights in the site, which was zoned and had a detention pond built before the overlay was created in 2007.

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

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.

Earlier this month, Walmart filed a second site development permit request for another property on Peachtree Parkway, just south of the Mathis Airport site.

The 33-acre property near Laurel Springs was bought by Walmart as part of its original 2006 proposal, which it eventually withdrew amid opposition.

Page said the second pending permit request was not a focus of Thursday’s talks, as the parties considered primarily the overlay requirements in relation to the Mathis Airport Parkway site.

“The reason we joined the appeal initially is because we felt the Peachtree Parkway Overlay was not being appreciated in its entirety,” he said. “We felt very strongly that we needed to make sure it was at least fully considered by the county and Walmart so that we could have that as a precedent for future growth.”