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Monday, March 18, 2013

Lawsuit filed to halt Suburban Plaza Walmart construction

A DeKalb County community organization is going to court to try and stop a proposed Walmart Supercenter just outside of Decatur.

In a lawsuit filed against the county on Friday, Good Growth DeKalb claims that the DeKalb County Board of Zoning Appeals did not have the authority to deny the group's appeal of developer Selig Enterprises' building permit for the 149,000-square-foot retail space and underground parking deck.

In the month since the BZA issued its ruling, Good Growth DeKalb Co-Chair Louise Runyon says the group has been preparing to take legal action. She thinks its chances are much more favorable in DeKalb County Superior Court, where members will argue that the county was in violation of its own ordinances when it granted the building permit for the Walmart.

"We want DeKalb County to follow their own laws," Runyon tells CL. "We want DeKalb County to listen to their communities."

More than 50 people rallied today outside the DeKalb County Courthouse in downtown Decatur, where Good Growth DeKalb announced the lawsuit. Runyon says that Selig Enterprises is only interested in maximizing profit and that the county is turning a blind eye to how nearby Decatur - Suburban Plaza is just outside the city limits - has prospered by embracing small, local businesses. She thinks the county is being shortsighted by approving the Walmart, a move that could ultimately kill off some of downtown Decatur's vibrant businesses.

Instead of building "homogenized retail," Good Growth DeKalb wants smarter development that includes local businesses with character - something more in line with Ponce City Market, the former Sears distribution center located along the Atlanta Beltline that's being redeveloped into a mixed-use gem.

"We fear that the revamp will further this unbridled development," Runyon says. "If you put wonderful things there, people will want to go there."

Scott Selig, vice president of Selig Enterprises, says Runyon's comments about the firm's business approach are without merit. "Those who build and sell immediately ... they're concerned with higher profit," he tells CL. "We hold our properties into it for a longer time."

He also notes that the comparison between Suburban Plaza and Ponce City Market is "apples to oranges." Instead, he says the redesigned development should be viewed in a similar light to Edgewood Shopping Center.

"Not every parcel is going to redeveloped like that," says Selig. "An area needs to provide for an entire community, not just what's in walking distance."

Selig Enterprises technically has the permits needed to begin construction, but the developer says it will hold off on demolition until after the court date. He thinks that when the strip mall's face-lift is complete, Suburban Plaza will be "unrecognizable" - something that even current opponents could appreciate. But not everyone is convinced just yet.

"The trend in this country is not towards big-box development," Runyon says. "The intersection does not need to go in this direction."

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