Opinion - Walmart at Suburban Plaza in DeKalb County? No thanks.

Shopping mall - and community - can do without 'big box' approach

Good Growth DeKalb is a group of area residents opposed to Atlanta-based Selig Enterprises' plan to redevelop North Decatur's Suburban Plaza — the late-1950s strip mall at North Decatur Road and Scott Boulevard — with a 149,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter. We believe that Walmart is not an appropriate choice for the area, especially considering there already is a Walmart less than four miles away.

Suburban Plaza was developed in 1959 and has been in need of a face-lift for years. The proposed redevelopment, which, according to Selig, has been discussed with Walmart since mid-2010, would refurbish the deteriorating shopping center. Developers say they would raze structures west of the plaza's Piccadilly Cafeteria — including the Last Chance Thrift Store — and build parking underground.

The big-box retailer's new location would bring an anticipated 250 to 300 part- and full-time jobs. However, studies show that for every two jobs created by Walmart, three typically are lost in the area. If published research holds true, the 300 potential jobs created by Walmart would be offset by 450 jobs lost as a result of shuttered local businesses.

Some argue that Walmart's pricing strategy could aid working-class families, although lower or comparable prices on many items already can be found at nearby stores.

Walmart's low-wage jobs will lead to greater reliance on government assistance, offsetting earned tax revenues. Research has shown that the addition of a Walmart leads to increased poverty levels in some communities.

As of October 2011, only employees working more than 24 hours a week are eligible for Walmart's health insurance plans. Consider, too, that health insurance premiums for eligible Walmart employees are expected to increase by more than 40 percent in 2012, according to the New York Times, and deductibles already sometimes exceed 20 percent of a worker's annual pay.

DeKalb County's already burdened infrastructure would be weakened if a Supercenter is built at Suburban Plaza. Local roads and residential areas would be overwhelmed by the increased combination of tractor-trailer and customer traffic. The redevelopment would negatively impact storm water run-off and the local sewer system.

The six-way intersection at Suburban Plaza already handles 70,000 cars per day and the anticipated congestion resulting from the proposed Walmart would increase the danger posed to pedestrians, school buses, and ambulances traveling to area hospitals, including nearby DeKalb Medical Center. (The traffic study paid for by the developer has not been completed.)

Some homeowners in the area are concerned that Walmart will lower property values and degrade the area's solid quality of life. There is concern that crime will increase, especially if the proposed Supercenter is open 24 hours a day.

GGD believes there are viable options to Selig's proposed redevelopment plan. In fact, we are building relationships with local architects and urban planners who can offer alternative visions to Selig's shortsighted plan.

Suburban Plaza is a gateway to the thriving city of Decatur. As such, it should reflect the thoughtful and conscious development that has led to the creation of one of metro Atlanta's most desired destinations.

Selig's failure to maintain Suburban Plaza should be an opportunity to redevelop in a forward-thinking manner. Rather than a concrete behemoth looming over the area, why not a walkable, mixed-used development with small- to medium-sized retailers, one that includes green space and perhaps a community center catering to the area's senior citizens and youth?

There are better roads to travel than the outdated "big box" approach proposed by Selig and Walmart.

Robert Blondeau is a member of Good Growth DeKalb. For more information, visit GoodGrowthDeKalb.org.

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