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Residents, Businesses Want Assurances From Walmart

On the list: work with existing establishments, keep traffic out of their residential areas and firmly commit to Memorial Drive.

Help to keep traffic from cutting through a neighborhood.

Consider working with a long-established business.

A promise that Memorial Drive won't be abandoned.

These are some of the assurances that a number of residents and business owners said they want from Walmart, which is proposing a new store at Memorial Drive and N. Hairston Road.

Representatives for the retailing giant spoke to members of the community Thursday night about its plans at a strong turnout for the monthly meeting of Pride Rings In Stone Mountain (PRISM), at .

State Rep. Michele Henson, one of the founding members of PRISM and a regular presence at its meetings, and State Rep. Karla Drenner were also there.

Since presenting to the community council in October, Walmart has made revisions to its project, including moving one of the entrances - a change that did not go over well with some area residents.

Others who spoke up during the question-and-answer period also want Walmart to make sure there is sufficient security to keep crime at bay and shopping carts -- which cost about $800 apiece -- from leaving the property.

Some would like Walmart to consider installing solar panels, and to address water drainage issues.

But the only thing one Pine Lake resident wanted from Walmart was for it to stay away.

"You don't pay workers a fair wage," she said. "I don't want you in my neighborhood. If you want to do something good, pay workers a fair wage. Don't keep people poor."

The community also showed support for long-time Memorial Drive merchant , some proposing that Walmart, which plans to have its own garden center, buy its plants from Hall's.

The crowd of about 100 people applauded that suggestion.

"I want to see Hall's center stay," said Patricia Deas, who has lived in Stone Mountain for 20 years.

Amy Hillman, an attorney representing Walmart, said the retailer would be open to visiting Hall's, which has been in business for 65 years, and seeing its operation.

A number of people suggested Walmart also speak with DeKalb County Schools about the DeKalb Alternative School, which is close to the proposed store site.

"I think it's very, very important" to talk to the school system, Henson said. "It needs to be high on your list."

Penny Allen, of the Hairston Crossing neighborhood which is behind the area where Walmart wants the store, said she is for the retailer's plans, but wants mature trees to be part of the landscaping, not "little twigs," she said, and a permanent sound barrier "so I can't see or hear Walmart," she said. "But I will be shopping at Walmart."

Walmart reps' answer: it would keep as many mature trees on the property as possible.

Deas said she thought the proposed store would be one Walmart too many in the area, citing the one on Rockbridge Road near U.S. 78 and the store on Memorial Drive in Avondale.

"I know we want to build up this area economically," Deas said. "Big businesses take over little businesses sometimes. We have enough Walmarts in this area, in my opinion."

John Schauber, of Kenilworth Estates, along with another resident of the neighbhorhood, Rob Marcoccia, are unhappy with one of the entrances to the store, which would be on N. Hairston right across from Kenilworth Drive, to take advantage of the existing cut-out in the median.

In previous plans, Walmart had the entrance further down, closer to Memorial. That proposal was bad, Schauber said; the new one is worse.

Schauber said the revised entry spot would invite "curiosity" into to his community. He asked if Walmart could help Kenilworth Estates "close that entrance off to our neighborhood."

A traffic signal at the entry could help keep cars from turning into the subdivision, said Hillman, who was joined by the project's landscape architect, engineer and planner in presenting the revised plans and addressing questions.

"If there was a traffic signal there, people would probably intuitively make better choices," she said.

Even so, Schauber maintained that steps still would need to be taken to ensure "the integrity of our neighborhood, the safety of our neighborhood."

One resident wanted to know if Walmart was fully committed to Memorial Drive, mentioning projects she's seen scrapped.

"What guarantee can you give us that you are here for the long haul?" she asked.

Hillman said Walmart's supercenter stores have more longevity than its old "division one" stores, which didn't have a garden center or grocery component.

"They have not closed or abandoned a Walmart Supercenter," Hillman said.

People were relieved at one piece of news: Walmart is not seeking to change the zoning of the proposed site to C-2; a C-1 zoning will work for what it wants to do, representatives said.

"That's a very positive thing," said Jan Dunaway, PRISM board member, who explained that a C-2 can bring in businesses such as adult entertainment.

At a DeKalb County Planning Commission meeting earlier this month, Walmart asked for a full, 60-day deferral on its proposal until January so it could meet with more community groups and adjust its plans following a traffic study.

The deferral basically means the process of seeking approval for its new store would start over.

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