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Who is Good Growth DeKalb?

An organizer with the group fighting the construction of a Walmart in North Decatur writes to Patch to explain their positions.

Welcome to Good Growth DeKalb! We are an organization of residents from many Decatur-area neighborhoods concerned about a Walmart Supercenter at Suburban Plaza. We feel Walmart is not a potential good neighbor. We do not consider Walmart in Decatur to be a done deal. Walmarts are defeated regularly by communities all over the country. They often choose not to come when there is sufficient opposition even when they win on the legal front.

Why are we opposed to Walmart here? We’re concerned about a significant increase in traffic at this already-challenged intersection; cut-through traffic in our neighborhoods threatening pedestrians, cyclists, walkers, runners, dogs and kids; greater difficulty for ambulances getting through; lowered property values; increased crime; loss of local businesses (In a Chicago study of a new Walmart, 82 of 306 small businesses went under in 18 months.); and the burden on our infrastructure. We question whether our roads, water mains, etc., can sustain such construction and maintenance and what kind of burden this would put on taxpayers in the long run.

We see other ways in which Walmart is not a good neighbor: They provide only two jobs for every three they eliminate; their pay keeps a family of four below poverty level; low-paid workers are forced to seek taxpayer-funded benefits. We also have many nearby Walmarts. The Avondale Supercenter is less than 4 miles away! Walmarts this close together will ultimately lead to a great decrease in choice for the consumer.

What would we like to see at Suburban Plaza instead? We call on Selig, its owner, to be responsive to the community's needs and wishes. Selig has done nothing to make Suburban Plaza inviting to potential businesses or customers. We support local and small-to-mid-sized businesses that are community-oriented. Many ideas have come forward – new restaurants, a coffee shop, a landscaped area, a roller skating rink, an old-fashioned carousel – that would make Suburban Plaza an attractive place for neighbors to gather, which in turn would make it commercially viable for many businesses. We would like to hear from you. What is your vision? Come to our Community Forum on Thursday at 7pm at North Decatur Presbyterian Church, 611 Medlock Rd., and express your views or write us at GoodGrowthDekalb@gmail.com.

What have we done so far? In the past two months we have held four rallies, generating excellent news coverage. We've distributed flyers and yard signs throughout surrounding neighborhoods. We've had an overall positive response everywhere – from folks driving by our rallies to neighbors we’ve talked to and businesses we've canvassed. We reached our initial fundraising goal of $4,000 in only two weeks and have hired attorneys to conduct an initial investigation of possible legal challenges to Walmart at Suburban Plaza.

Our attorneys will speak at the Community Forum on their findings so far. Russell Edwards, from People For A Better Athens (a group opposing Walmart/Selig in downtown Athens) will also speak. Please come! On Saturday, March 10 at 10am, we will hold an Outreach March from Suburban Plaza to downtown Decatur. We will carry signs and banners along the sidewalk and distribute flyers to passersby. Please join us!

Make a donation or mail check to Good Growth DeKalb, P.O. Box 33721, Decatur, GA 30033. Sign our petition and follow us on Facebook.

Louise Runyon
Medlock

Chris Shaw February 22, 2012 at 03:52 PM
First!
Tammy February 22, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Suburban Plaza is a rotting hulk and the only company that has any interest in it is Wal Mart. It's coming, regardless of what you do. Perhaps y'all could get them to plant some cute decorative trees out front.
Helen Lenkerd February 23, 2012 at 11:55 AM
They've already promised some nice landscaping, including trees and sidewalks. Walmart will be a wonderful addition to our community. They have to pay at least minimum wages, which is standard for entry level jobs. Of course a person can work up to more. Why are you guys fighting it so hard? Helen
Lucas Roberts February 23, 2012 at 12:10 PM
What about a push for the other wal mart proposal on memorial? What about a community stand against wal mart in DeKalb? It's bigger than just one specific location. There are a lot of strip malls that Walmart could slide into.
Steve February 23, 2012 at 01:00 PM
If GGD is so interested in improving the area, they should get behind appealing the rejection of the NDH LCI: http://www.medlockpark.org/2012/02/lci-proposal-rejected.html
Victoria Webb February 23, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Helen - the developer/Walmart for SPlaza made many non-binding concessions to the surrounding neighborhoods with two commissioners' input. What GGD wants to ensure is that those come to fruition; so many don't. The Memorial Drive Walmart promised a coffee shop, housing and greenspace. None of it happened and crime has exponentially increased in that area, along with a large population of rats, according to posts on Patch in December. Lucas - we agree that a better location would be a vacant strip mall or car lot. Steve - good idea to get behind the appeal - we agree that the LCI was a great vision plan for the area. Please, all of you who post on these pages - come to the meeting tonight and make your voices heard! Sign our petition: http://tinyurl.com/nowalmartindecatur Follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NoWMinDecatur
David D February 23, 2012 at 02:46 PM
The operative part of the description of the group is "Make a donation or mail check to Good (sic) Growth DeKalb..." This is about funding the lawyers and a small, subgroup's attempt to try to get 1000 signatures on a petition. "...come to the meeting tonight"..... bring a checkbook. My recommendation is that everyone take their money and support local businesses, not out-of-town lawyers.
Robert February 23, 2012 at 03:10 PM
We all agree that Suburban Plaza needs improvement; GGD does not believe a 149,000 sq. ft. Walmart is the right choice. Why not a mixed-use development that better fits the character of the closest thriving city center, downtown Decatur? Why not refocus the development towards a more walkable, livable, and sustainable design? Walmart is not the only retailer in the country looking to expand its business, but considering the number of Walmarts planned by Selig, it appears to be Selig's choice. From a business perspective, I get it: Walmart is the largest retailer in the world. That doesn't make it the best choice. Walmart too often is assumed to be an inevitable outcome, but it is stopped all the time, not without a fight of course. Smart Growth Forsyth, for example, has been instrumental in blocking three Walmarts. GGD remains optimistic that Suburban Plaza can become a prosperous shopping center again without the intrusion of a supercenter.
Victoria Webb February 23, 2012 at 03:32 PM
We are a grass roots organizing group that has no sponsors. Nothing gets done without money in either politics or community efforts. Our attorney is based in Atlanta, so he's definitely local and an expert in land use. Our cause is the community and its greater well being. Obviously, some think a Walmart this size will have no negative impact. We feel differently and our reasons are well documented and validated by other city and county research that has been going on for decades. As Robert mentioned above, many big-box chains like Walmart have been stopped by community efforts. But going up against them does require resources, including exceptional attorneys. However, I agree with David in supporting local business as well. And that plays into a huge part of our efforts in trying to defeat or at the least, renegotiate this plan.
J. Ellis February 23, 2012 at 04:04 PM
There are 28,000 people who live in Decatur. GGD has 205 facebook likes, that is only.0073 % of the population. Selig has the right to lease to Walmart, they own the property and are zoned for a big box retailer. S Plaza is a mess and an eye sore for our community. I look forward to seeing something done with the entrance into this area from Hwy 78. Sure, we would all love to redo downtown Decatur at SP but it took years for that to happen. **** The Chicago article, do you know that 50% of new businesses fail? The figures in that report are actually pretty good! http://www.ehow.com/how-does_5212542_many-businesses-fail-first-year_.html **** "What GGD wants to ensure is that those come to fruition; so many don't." GGD has not been working on the concessions, they are trying to stop Walmart! That is not the same thing. If we were talking about a small Target, Bed Bath and Beyond etc....we would not be having this discussion. Get over it people and REALLY................ELVES!
Victoria Webb February 23, 2012 at 04:25 PM
If one actually reads the concessions, they were only signed by MANA - one neighborhood group out of many - and are non-binding; effectively up to Selig to enact 'according to their discretion'. Since when does a developer have the right to not only evaluate their own traffic impact study, decide where a traffic light will go, or whether a median - 'if feasible' - should be introduced to Church St. In other areas of the country, the county or city makes these important decisions for their constituents, not the developer. Contrary to what some have posted here, the concessions will be a focal point for our attorneys and for the Dekalb county commissioners, to enforce. For example, GGD would prefer an independent traffic impact study, paid for by the developer, but appointed by the county. That's a standard approach to make sure the study will be fair to all involved. I suggest you contact your own representatives so that they hear your voice as well, on the proposal. You may find the 'non-binding' document here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5X3azbRb7ZtNTJmNmExNjAtZTdlMC00NjBjLTk3ZDktMTBiZDljMjFhYjVl/edit
Lance N February 23, 2012 at 04:26 PM
I think David D is mistaken about the out of town lawyers. Isn't that who Walmart brought in for the parking variance hearing on Dec 14 at the Maloof Building? Wal mart is notorious for coming in and getting out of the community once it establishes its footprint. That seem to be the track record for Selig Properties also. Selig's opening remark at the zoning parking variance meeting on Dec 14 was we are a family business of 93 years. Why not make the community a part of the larger Selig family? What regular participation has Selig done in the community? Why is Walmart not represented at some of the community business meetings? Do they attend the Avondale Busineess Association meetings?. Can anyone speak to what community outreach Walmart has done in other places? In our highly residential community it is even more important for larger companies to be involved as an adjunct to neighborhood planning by its residents>.Does Walmart compare to what Kroger or Target has done?
J. Ellis February 23, 2012 at 05:49 PM
"Contrary to what some have posted here, the concessions will be a focal point for our attorneys and for the Dekalb county commissioners, to enforce." So now GGD is saying it's ok for the Walmart to come in if the concessions are enforced? According to GGD website " Our vision of good growth for our community does not include the development of a 149,000 square foot Walmart." Not just one group developed the document, many Neighborhoods in Decatur and the surrounding area worked to come up with the concessions.
Victoria Webb February 23, 2012 at 05:55 PM
J.Ellis, no I did not say that. You suggested that GGD wasn't working on concessions. My point was that we would be, in tandem with the surrounding neighborhoods. (MANA is the only group who signed that document with Selig, although I'm sure you know that.) That's if we can't defeat the current plan, which we do hope to do.
Staci February 23, 2012 at 06:11 PM
You're correct. DeKalb has two others in the works. Patch has covered them both: http://stonemountain.patch.com/articles/planning-commission-says-yes-to-memorial-drive-walmart http://peachtreecorners.patch.com/articles/walmart-in-peachtree-corners
Staci February 23, 2012 at 06:29 PM
J. Ellis, The Facebook page was created before Good Growth DeKalb was formed. Unfortunately, once you reach 100 people, you cannot change the name of a Facebook group. I am sure there would be more followers if it was easier to find by name. It's a good idea to promote it more to the petition signers. Also, I am not sure ehow is the most reliable resource but I do know many new businesses fail -- all the more reason not to put a Walmart Supercenter in their way. We aren't talking about new businesses failing anyway. We are talking about supporting existing businesses, whether they are small local ones (like our book stores and bike shops) or larger corporate ones (like Kroger and Hancock Fabrics) and matching new stores to community wishes. You're also right that if we were talking about a smaller store we wouldn't be talking about this issue -- but Selig proposed a 249,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter for the small shopping center. Selig can certainly change their minds and propose a small Target or Bed Bath and Beyond -- your ideas sound like a much better fit for Suburban Plaza and the community. Tonight's forum is for the community to have their say in what they want. Good Growth DeKalb wouldn't speak on behalf of a community without asking the community for input -- that's what our elected officials did against DeKalb County's guidelines when they met with Selig and Walmart for six months before telling the public.
Staci February 23, 2012 at 06:40 PM
The concessions are not binding and include things that Walmart and Selig would have to do by law anyway. How is that effective? Sounds like you may have been personally involved. I appreciate that effort. But many of the people from the neighborhood associations who were personally involved didn't share the proposals before the associations signed documents. One exception was Glennwood Estates. Everyone had an opportunity to review the proposal through a listserve and every single person replied with a vote against the concessions. I thought I saw on MANA's website that the board announced their decision to the n'hood AFTER they made up their minds. I believe Decatur Heights did something similar. To me, that doesn't mean neighborhoods came up with concessions. It means a few people in the know worked in secret with Walmart and Selig and the county. Intentions may have been good but the execution was all wrong.
Staci February 23, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Correction: Only one n'hood association signed the document. Others remain neutral, better protecting themselves legally.
Deanne February 23, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Victoria, Good Growth Dekalb's actions don't seem to be leading to being able to negotiate with Selig and Walmart. By opting to go with accusations on blogs and staging protests before attempting to meet with them, y'all pretty much burned up that possibility. Even the most Walmart hatin'est folks around will hardly be able to blame them if they turn y'all away. The neighborhood groups acted in good faith (with an emphasis on doing, not talking about doing) and sat down with Selig and Walmart in early Dec after the two big community meetings. Good progress was made in addressing concerns, and a plan was set for continued input. You're skeptical that Selig and Walmart will abide by the agreements. I ask you: What would be the upside for Selig or Walmart to not honor commitments that they also view as reasonable? Why would they throw away goodwill? Why would they give up being able to trumpet a major success story of working with the neighborhoods? Selig and Walmart aren't dummies. The neighborhood groups aren't either. The neighborhood groups carefully evaluated the specifics of this project to determine what's realistic to pursue and how to best go about it, and we reached a different conclusion than GGD's. (You've also assumed that Selig avoided a legal contract. Put it this way: Would you want to be personally liable for some GGD folks' actions? Your attorneys can explain the pros and cons of nonbinding and binding agreements.)
Deanne February 23, 2012 at 09:09 PM
Staci, There were three Decatur Heights meetings: One to gauge where neighbors stood; a meeting with nearby neighborhoods to share concerns; and the Nov. 30 Meeting at Dekalb Medical so that the Church St. Side neighbors and nearby businesses could hear directly from Selig and Walmart on the exact list of concerns to be negotiated and raise any missed issues. The DHNA used blogs, listservs, twitter, our newsletter, and notices posted at apt complexes to get the word out about all three. MANA went all out in making folks aware of their community meeting. At some point neighbors have to take the initiative to stay informed. When a community issue arises, neighbors have to act swiftly, even when the timing's inconvenient. The neighborhood groups sprang into action to get concerns addressed before the Dec. 14th ZBOA variance hearing. It's regrettable that no one thought to put out a statement saying, “The next step is for the neighborhood groups to meet with Selig and Walmart to negotiate concessions.” (It's also odd that no one asked, “Hey, so what's the next step?” ) Fortunately, all but a few folks seem to get that the oversight wasn't done with ill intent and that a list just floating around on blogs wouldn't have led to results. Most folks also seem to recognize the value in acting when there's an opportunity for leverage and for honoring the Golden Rule until it's proven futile. GGD's very different strategy is an interesting one indeed.
Deanne February 23, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Good Growth Dekalb's choice of Russell Edwards, leader of People for a Better Athens, as a meeting speaker should be a HUGE red flag to the more thoughtful GGD supporters. It's pretty significant that a second group, Protect Downtown Athens, formed to express concerns about Selig's proposed Athens plans. Why would GGD knowingly give their nod to the guy who submitted a faulty petition and put out a deceptive architectural rendering for the development that he had to retract? And he's an attorney! Doesn't this mean he should be a stickler for facts and accuracy when leading an effort? Might want to dig into details before following Russell Edward's suggestions for a better anything. To get you started (just stick his name in ABH search field for more): http://onlineathens.com/opinion/2012-01-25/editors-desk-critiquing-walmart-opposition
Staci February 23, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Hi Deanne, I stand corrected. I see that you had a meeting on 11/5 for the Decatur Heights at the church -- sure, you had the other too -- sorry I didn't look that up before posting. And while Decatur Heights and MANA did offer public forums (thank you), many people still remain in the dark today -- espcially people not active online. Also, the fact still stands that the nine concessions include things that Walmart would have to do anyway. I know you tried for others, and they were not accepted because Glennwood shared the draft, which was substantially bigger. And that is case in point about why it's really hard to work with Selig and Walmart -- they took pages and pages of your suggestions and agreed to nine things only -- some of which they'd already have to do by law and none of which is legally binding. I don't think they follow the Golden Rule. I think they do what they want, when they want, as they want. I hope you're coming tonight. I'll have on a name tag so you can find me! Thanks, Deanne.
N.G. February 23, 2012 at 10:00 PM
I live in Medlock Park and have always made it a priority to stay informed and involved with anything MANA related, and I can tell you without hesitation and unequivocally that MANA did not reach out to the community in any kind of meaningful way to take our pulse or hear our collective voice on this very weighty issue. After the October meeting at which Selig and Walmart presented to us, Theresa Same posted a list of our written comments (which we provided on index cards after the meeting) in an effort or transparency, which I appreciated. Still, she and Sharon Johnson moved forward with concession negotiations even after assessing the sloppily compiled community feedback to be of "no clear consensus." I expressed my objection to a Walmart at Suburban Plaza in no uncertain terms, so I feel that I did what I could at the time. I emailed Jeff Rader and the MANA Board directly. I support the efforts of Good Growth DeKalb and I think everyone should come out to the meeting if they can so that we can have a discussion in person.
Deanne February 23, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Staci! Lordy! No wonder you're frustrated! There's TWO documents. Here's the agreement: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B5X3azbRb7ZtNTJmNmExNjAtZTdlMC00NjBjLTk3ZDktMTBiZDljMjFhYjVl/edit?pli=1 I agree with you that it's so very important keep our neighbors without internet connected within our neighborhoods-- not just on big time happenings, but on everyday goings on too. If neighbors are inspired to continue reaching out after the Gasp!Walmart's Coming! situation is behind us, then all this will have been worthwhile. :0) *** For folks interested in the DHNA's Nov meetings, here's a neighbor's blog with info: http://airbornecombatengineer.typepad.com/decatur_heights/2011/11/index.html For full audio of the Nov. 30 Meeting: http://airbornecombatengineer.typepad.com/decatur_heights/2011/12/audio-of-seligwalmart-meeting-with-neighbors-on-church-st-side-of-suburban-plaza-on-11302011.html (* The meeting was scripted and led by a moderator to ensure all concerns were covered. The questions were provided to Selig and Walmart on 11/29, and copies were given to the media folks on 11/30 to make their job a bit easier. )
prettyflower February 24, 2012 at 03:32 AM
Where was that optimism before Wal-Mart came along? Suburban Plaza has been ripe for the picking for years now and no one has been able to attract sustainable businesses to anchor the plaza. Maybe GGD is too little, too late. If they have the skills and knowledge to attract businesses that Selig does not have, it is a shame they didn't make that their business before the contract with Wal-Mart was signed.
Concerned DeKalb Citizen February 24, 2012 at 03:53 AM
I'm not the greatest fan of Wal-Mart, however, the Memorial Drive Wal-Mart, has never had a rat population. That was a false rumor put out by those in Avondale Estates objecting to it when it was initially built. Secondly, show me and factually evidence that crime increased in that area. In addition, the housing was never Wal-Mart's plan, obviously the economy changed that. Wal-Mart to their credit produced every thing they promised as I went to many of the meeting they held with the community.
Victoria Webb February 24, 2012 at 03:40 PM
One thread suggested that Russell Edwards' architectural renderings may be a mere 5' off. And he corrected the one mistake he made on the drawings. Big deal. Selig also wants to demolish 3 buildings in their Athens project - 'originally listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and consisting of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century warehouses.' With a background in historic preservation, I can understand why the People for a Better Athens is concerned. I'm curious - why didn't the neighborhood groups here ask for binding concessions? Smart Growth Forsyth got concessions in writing from Walmart and still defeated their plans to build. Why was Selig allowed to initiate their own traffic report and isn't it important to have this be independent? These are questions that GGD has asked without trying to alienate anyone. Even one of the members of the county zoning board suggested on Dec. 14th that more time was needed to review traffic concerns. Whether or not Dekalb county allows developers to fund their own reports is not the point. We need more common sense regulations and ordinances that benefit the community, not the developers. We're not suggesting that the oversight you made was intentional. We're just trying to do better by the community. We had a great turn-out last night for our community forum. It appears that many, many people are concerned about a development that could potentially leave the neighborhood worse off in the long run.
Deanne February 24, 2012 at 05:29 PM
Victoria, Since Russell Edwards didn't end up participating last night, we should probably switch to discussing Melissa Link and why folks should check out any info she imparts (the petiton and nary a mention of its major issues; her interpretation of the ACC Meeting). We all have our own standard of "no big deal." You and I seem to see it differently, but perhaps you missed this article and will end up agreeing: http://onlineathens.com/local-news/2012-01-24/misleading-downtown-athens-walmart-images-circulate-online Again, GGD's lawyer can explain the pros and cons of binding vs. nonbinding agreements. Having him work on your other questions would be an excellent use of GGD's legal fund. All neighbors could benefit from a better understanding of what's broken in how the County currently does things and how we can all best work to fix it. (Not blaming our County Folks-- imagine their frustrations at being hamstrung by outdated rules! ) A good turnout for issues affecting our neighborhoods is always welcome news. It means that folks care and want to learn more. With future commercial development and MARTA expansion on the horizon, all area neighbors will want to stay informed from here on out.
Victoria Webb February 24, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Deanne, thanks for that info. I hope you'll attend our meetings and that we can work together on this issue. Link was very good last night, in case you missed her. I'm in support of what Athens is doing. And in light of the many concessions that Walmart and their developers have failed to promise to hundreds of communities over the past 20 years, I think a 5 foot discrepancy in a photo from one grass roots group - is small potatoes. We all need to press for better ordinances. Our county officials are only as good as we help them to be!
~ HHS ~ March 12, 2012 at 02:01 AM
I have experience watching this entire area quickly decline. I have seen groups like "Good Growth Dekalb" fight new development over the last 20 years--only to see the developers decide to go elsewhere. Whomever Selig wants to sell to that rebuilds that shopping center--I am all for it. As for "offers" Selig has possibly or possibly NOT received is a choice that property owners have a right to accept or decline if it is within the current zoning. As for their zoning, it was zoned MANY years ago. The property owners can choose to rent to whomever they want that meet that zoning criteria. Just as you have a right to sell/rent to whomever you want. There are some far WORSE people Selig could choose to rent to -- hmm.. small business that might be interested in Suburban Plaza -- Pink Pony -- Inserection -- Pawn Shops -- The list goes on... I have watched Cheshire Bridge, Buford Hwy go down hill with their aging shopping centers... I have seen Sydney Marcus and Brookhaven/Peachtree Industrial rebuilt with Wal-Mart & Home Depots--then the nicer small businesses approached. Trying to keep Decatur as this small home town "All-American" community ideal isn't going to work because everyone is moving to "NEWER" areas. The only ones with the $$$ for such an expensive overhaul is someone like Wal-Mart. To my knowledge, Selig is renting-right? As a property owner myself, I would only pick the best possible tenants that would HELP my property increase in value--not decrease it.

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