Wal-Mart was “clobbered” this week in Cobb County, Georgia, where the county’s Planning Commission refused to recommend the rezoning of 65 acres of land for a Wal-Mart supercenter. The Atlanta Journal Constitution said the plan was “clobbered,” casting a shadow over Wal-Mart’s plan to not only build a supercenter, but 7 two-story office buildings, for a total project of 330,586 s.f. Instead, the county planning Commission unanimously voted that part of the property should be put into a “neighborhood commercial” zoning category, and the rest remain residential. About 130 opponents of the plan crowded into the hearing room, wearing orange and black “Stop Wal-Mart” stickers. But the final vote rests with the Cobb County Commission on February 15th. By rezoning the land neighborhood commerical, no single building can exceed 70,000 s.f., and the total commercial development has a cap of 140,000 s.f. Wal-Mart tried to argue that Cobb County would be forcing Wal-Mart to go to another county, foregoing $2.85 million in annual sales taxes, of which $575,000 would go to Cobb schools, and $177,000 in real estate taxes to Cobb. Those figures are gross numbers, not net of losses elsewhere from business closings due to Wal-Mart. The retailer also claimed it would improve the water quality of nearby Lake Allatoon, protect the surrounding neighborhoods with extensive buffering, and improve traffic at an existing Wal-Mart supercenter that is located only five miles away. The only missing claim was that the superstore would provide a cure for cancer. Wal-Mart’s lawyer tried to scare the Commission by saying that changing the zoning was unconstitutional because it would deny the property owners their rights — even though Wal-Mart was asking for a zoning change itself. Opponents made it clear that the county’s future land use map, a guideline for development, labels the property in the rural residential category. “No matter how you look at it, this proposed development is too intense for this site,” said Helen Craig, a longtime resident. Teresa Stendahl, whose property abuts the Wal-Mart site said: “We are very grateful they heard what we had to say.”
Wal-Mart has no right to expect land rezoned for their purposes. The county has a land use plan, and the land Wal-Mart wants is not a residential use. The Commission is correct to make the land configure with the master plan. In this case, the use of the land is too intense for its surrounding uses, which is mostly residential. The homeowners nearby bought their homes with the understanding that this land was residentially or industrially zoned, and with a land use plan that said nothing about large scale commercial. The county has an existing size cap on neighborhood commercial uses, and Wal-Mart has no right to exceed that cap.