By David Pendered
The Atlanta City Council voted Monday to defer its decision on a proposed Walmart in Buckhead that is to anchor a big retail/residential development.
The council sent the matter back to committee to continue negotiations with the developer. The vote is a defeat for the city’s planning department, which recommended approval, and a victory for Buckhead residents who oppose the project as it’s currently designed.
The council’s vote means the end isn’t in sight for a debate that, at some level, pits the city’s master development plan against job creation – in this case, 600 permanent jobs and 300 temporary construction jobs, according to the developer.
In a matter related to Walmart but unrelated to the proposed development, Councilman C.T. Martin cited the Walmart fortune when he asked the council to pass a resolution opposing the state’s decision to put a charter school amendment on the November ballot. Martin noted that the campaign in favor of the amendment has received a sizable contribution from a Walmart descendant.
“It just stands to reason, these entities, if they want our money, they ought to support our kinds of programs we are happy about, rather than taking our money and supporting projects that aren’t in the best interests of the community,” Martin said before the council voted 11-1 for his resolution (Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, of Buckhead, cast the lone negative vote).
“This is almost like giving people with white sheets the money to buy white sheets,” Martin said. “There are two sides to that, and I understand.”
State campaign disclosures show that Walmart heiress Alice Walton, of Bentonville, Ark. has contributed $250,000 to the Georgia campaign in favor of the amendment. The sum is more than half the $487,000 raised.
The city council didn’t make much of a fuss over its vote to defer proposals that would allow the development to proceed. The project requires a change in the city’s Comprehensive Development Plan, and a rezoning.
Councilman Howard Shook, who represents Buckhead, made a motion to refer the proposal for more consideration by the council’s Community Development Committee. The council voted 13-2 to support Shook’s motion. The nay votes were cast by councilmembers Alex Wan and Felicia Moore.
That vote triggered the referral of a companion piece of legislation back to the council’s Zoning Committee.
There was no discussion of either item.
The issue of job creation resonates at a time the region’s unemployment’s has clung near at least 9 percent for months, or longer, according to the state Labor Department.
Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd last week countered the suggestion that Walmart jobs don’t pay well. Sheperd chairs the Community Development Committee that handles the city’s master development plan, and she also serves a district that has arguably been hit harder than any other by blight, abandonment, and foreclosure.
“We can talk about how they have jobs of a certain income, but you go into Walmart – people are working in Walmart everyday,” Sheperd said last week during a committee meeting.
The project’s opponents said they are all for job creation, but not in the development that’s proposed.
At the city council meeting Monday, Jim King, who chairs Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, urged the council to follow the wishes Buckhead residents who don’t want the Walmart project.
“Economic development is a good thing; it can be done well and no so well,” King said. “We encourage you to back legislation that does it well.”
The council did not set a timeline for the negotiations nor a schedule for its next vote on the matter.