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Does big box store mean big problems?

By Kay S. Pedrotti Nobody’s talking ‘yes or no’ on whether the Arkansas giant Walmart will try to stomp down in Barnesville. If it happens — and where it’s supposed to happen — it could be a bigger nightmare than the city or county has faced in the eight years I’ve been here, other than the 2011 tornado. The ‘where’ is absolutely the biggest problem. On Roberta Drive across from the sheriff’s office and horse arena, there are 67 wooded acres belonging to the city. It has been neither confirmed nor denied that this is the ‘land in question’ in negotiations with Harper Southeastern Properties Inc. of Marietta, but Herald Gazette sources say it’s a frontrunner. Ride by. Look at the site. A Walmart or other big box store would be in direct competition with Ingle’s and 341 Quick Lube on the north and Akins Farm and Home, Advance Auto Parts and others on the south side. It has been rumored also that the Walmart folks would be interested in an entrance on Highway 18 as well as Veterans Parkway. There is a 1.77-acre piece that would supposedly be acquired for the Highway 341 entrance/ exit — but not that far south of Roberta Drive, where hundreds of school buses and parent vehicles enter and leave every school day, and where stadium traffic also would be affected. Aerial photos show that if indeed an entrance was sought on Highway 18, it could only happen if Ingle’s sells Walmart some land behind its store to the west. I don’t see that happening — imagine Walmart’s reaction if the scenario were reversed and Ingle’s wanted to locate in its back pocket. Walmart seldom locates anywhere without ‘outparcels.’ Fast food restaurants or other smaller businesses would still contribute to the traffic woes. Would the state locate another traffic light that close to Highway 18, and where would it be -Roberta Drive or the store entrance? Would Georgia DOT wait for a fatal accident, or more than one, before it would even consider better traffic management? I’ve been in the metro Atlanta area since 1982. I could cite case after case when swooping development vultures virtually ruined what had been a nice neighborhood or small town. The laws are all on their side — if your zoning board or commission says no, the developers sue because you denied them the ‘highest and best use’ of their land. If you want a good example of what happens when cities and counties cave in to that kind of pressure, legal or not, ride through Clayton County. It will take those good folks decades to recover from past bad decisions. The most pressing question in my mind is, ‘What is the actual final accomplishment here?’ If it is Walmart knocking down the door, why locate in Barnesville when we have four Walmarts within 25 minutes or less — Thomaston, Griffin, Forsyth and Locust Grove? If it isn’t, is this just a ploy to make us breathe a sigh of relief when it does not happen, only to have something worse sneak in later? I would encourage all our government officials, landholders and citizens to be very wary of what becomes a part of this lovely place we call home. There are far more smalltown- compatible businesses that could raise the tax digest than another Made-in-China distributor. Kay Pedrotti is a writer and reporter for the Herald Gazette.

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