Saturday, June 2, 2012

Suburban Plaza/Walmart: updated site design

The following is an updated version of the Suburban Plaza Redevelopment article that Theresa Same, MANA Zoning Chair, contributed to the current issue of our Medlock Matters neighborhood newsletter

Before I dive into my update, I want to again state that after engaging legal counsel and speaking with our County Representatives the MANA Board and I decided that it is in the best interest of our neighborhood to work with Selig Enterprises and Walmart on the redevelopment of Suburban Plaza. I believe that my job as your Zoning Chair is to give you as many facts as I can about this development so that you can form your own opinion. I respect that those opinions vary greatly throughout the neighborhood and that many of you feel very passionately about how this redevelopment will affect our neighborhood – all of which I attempt to honor in my discussions with Selig and Walmart. At the same time, the board and I are realistic in trying to negotiate the best development we can for our neighborhood with one of the most powerful retailers in the country; this is especially difficult within the confines of our county and state laws/ordinances that generally favor business and cars over residents and alternative transportation.  

As I drive or walk through the neighborhood, I can’t help but notice the growing number of “Stop Walmart” signs.  People stop and ask me everyday what is going on with the Suburban Plaza redevelopment. The truth is there has not been a lot to report since our negotiations with Selig/Walmart and the Zoning Board of Appeal’s decision in December to approve Selig’s request for a parking exception on the property [this link calls up all updates we've had since then, posted on this website]. This slow-down in activity is about change because things are starting to take shape for the redevelopment.

Design: Selig has engaged two separate architecture firms to focus on improvements to the site and buildings. One firm is working to provide suggestions for improving the pedestrian connectivity within and surrounding their property; the other architecture firm is focusing on branding and building imagery for facade renovations. As per our contract Selig has agreed to schedule meetings with MANA and selected representatives from the immediate surrounding neighborhoods so that we can provide feedback on design concepts.  I expect these meetings to begin soon.

Permitting & Schedule: Both Selig and Walmart anticipate applications for initial permits for site work will be submitted in the upcoming weeks. The renovation of the existing shopping center, including the demolition required for the construction of Walmart, is anticipated to begin in the first half of 2013, barring unanticipated delays.

Leasing: Selig is currently talking/negotiating with several national retailers and local businesses who are interested in being a part of the redevelopment of Suburban Plaza.  I will update you as the contracts are signed.

Walmart: Selig has told me that preliminary contracts with Walmart have been signed. Walmart is currently in their due diligence phase of the process.  During this time, Walmart will pursue the steps necessary for submitting their applications for building and other permits. This includes completion of their due diligence, civil design, and interior and exterior building drawings and plans.  Their main focus will be determining if the store can be built as they intended for the budget they have allotted.

Site Plan: The most current site plan for Suburban Plaza redevelopment appears below.  This is a work-in-progress, so it is subject to change.  We have placed the most recent site plan next to the last published site plan so that the changes can be easily seen.

October 2011 and June 2012 site concepts for Suburban Plaza. Click to enlarge.
Below, we have enhanced the black and white concept drawing (dated May 2012) that we shared in the newsletter to highlight key differences.

MANA notations to Selig Enterprises document appear in orange. These highlights refer to changes relative to the concepts we received in 2011. Click to enlarge.
The main items to note are:

( 1 )  The addition of a garden center to the new Wamart building (see my comments on this below).
( 2 )  Details are provided on the underground parking below Walmart.
( 3 )  Underground parking will be added below tenant C. The entrance and exit to this parking will be behind the building.
( 4 )  Parking lot pedestrian crosswalks have been added. Additional walkways have been added beyond the highlighted areas. There has also been an effort to adjust the parking lot alignment to improve safety.
( 5 )  The location of the main entrance from North Decatur Road had to be adjusted due to the current placement of electrical line.  The layout of the greenspace had to be adjusted in order to accommodate this change. There is still a net gain in greenspace as compared to the current site.

Walmart Garden Center: As many people may have heard, Walmart has decided to include a garden center.  This is contrary to statements made by Glen Wilkins, Walmart Representative, at our community meeting in November. We are disappointed about this, but want you to know that this does not violate their contract with MANA. In December, just a few days before the Zoning Board of Appeals meeting, Walmart corporate executives struck the “no garden center” condition from our proposed contract. Their explanation was that they wanted to sell garden supplies, patio furniture, grills, etc., and that language disallowing a garden center in the contract would limit their right to sell these kinds of items. MANA tried to come up with modified wording for the contract, but Walmart would not agree to any limitations. It should be noted that Glen Wilkins and I differ on our recollection of this conversation. I am still trying to figure out if this is a matter of semantics or if Walmart now plans to have a full garden center. The C1 zoning for the site allows them to have a garden center. Also note that the entire garden center is contained within the permissible building area set during negotiations.

Glen Wilkins recently met with the owners of Intown Hardware, Dave Jones and Tony Powers.  In my conversations with Dave, he stated that they are “concerned about Walmart, but not worried.”  Like MANA, they concluded early in this process that they would not be able to stop Walmart; therefore, they will work to differentiate themselves from Walmart in terms of product offerings and service. Dave and Tony have been moved by the outpouring of concern and support the neighborhood has shown, and they say the best way we can support them is to continue shopping at their store.
Side-by-side view of Selig concepts. Click to enlarge

MANArtistic rendition of what the side-by-side concepts look like if overlaid. Click to enlarge.

Please continue to check this website for the most recent information on the Suburban Plaza redevelopment.