City officials announced last Saturday that the 180,000-square-foot big box store, along with a fueling station, will open on a 30-acre site east of I-575, west of Holly Springs Parkway and north of Pine Crest Road.
Walmart spokesman Bill Wertz confirmed the company’s plan on Thursday and said the store will bring approximately 300 new jobs when it opens in 2014.
Mayor Tim Downing praised the announcement as welcome news for Holly Springs, which is badly in need of jobs, and may provide a spark in additional investment in surrounding businesses.
Nonetheless, the announcement came as a complete surprise for many in the small city of just over 9,000 residents.
Lynn Solt, a two-year city resident, said she was taken aback when she read about it in the newspaper. Solt said she lives a few miles from the site and is opposed to the store because of the heavy traffic that often accompanies Walmart stores.
“I just moved to Holly Springs from the McDonough area,” she said.
“In McDonough, Stockbridge, Morrow and all those areas, I experienced how they came in and put in a Walmart. It devastated the area. It brings people from all around; it’s not just your locals that shop there. You’re looking at a parking lot and another gas station. To me, it’s just invasive.”
Two Walmart stores already exist roughly six miles to the north and south of the city in Woodstock and Canton.
Tommy Talley, owner of Minuteman Press on Marietta Highway, located on the other side of I-575 from the planned site, fears the store will hurt surrounding small businesses, including his own potentially.
“I don’t see where Wal-Mart has ever improved the quality of life anywhere they have located,” he said. “They do not help the economy, they take from small businesses and I don’t want them here.”
Presently, the Holly Springs City Council is discussing where to place new signage to designate its downtown area. According to city officials, the goal of the signage is to attract new businesses downtown prior to beginning construction of the new town center.
City Manager Rob Logan said the city was notified about the store from Walmart last Friday. He said that he has received only positive feedback.
In August, the city council granted annexation requests from several properties that were rezoned from single family residential to general commercial. At the time, Logan said the property owners intended to market their properties for sale as a potential development of a shopping center.
But the city did not specify that the shopping center would be a Walmart store.
Solt said she contacted the city’s community development office this week about what she views as a lack of transparency on the part of the city. She said she was repeatedly told that a zoning meeting had already taken place and that the public had an opportunity to speak out.
“From what I’ve been told – as I’m talking to people in the community – they tried to put (Walmart) in Hickory Flats,” Sold said. “I understand that the people down there said, ‘Absolutely not.’”
No additional planning and zoning meetings will be required for Walmart to build on the site, said Logan.
Presently, a few abandoned houses, a small abandoned factory and a couple of inhabited houses are located on the site, which has mostly been zoned general commercial since 2007, according to the city. General commercial zoning allows a variety of uses, from banks, restaurants and convenience stores to animal hospitals, home improvement stores and theaters.
“The land is already zoned general commercial and the various property owners worked with a local attorney to obtain a conditional use permit back in the summer that would allow the property to be assembled and marketed for a shopping center,” Logan said.
“Four property owners were not in the city limits and had to request to have their property be annexed to participate in the assemblage.”
The next step is for Walmart to submit plans to the city for review to ensure compliance with code and zoning requirements within the Holly Springs Parkway Overlay Zoning District, said Logan.
The plan also comes at a time when the city is trying to establish a city center in the downtown region of Holly Springs. Councilmembers recently approved signage to spur interest from businesses looking to locate into the city.