Letter to the Editor: Did Walmart Mislead Us on Garden Center Plans?

"If the proposed Walmart Supercenter is built, is this the type of relationship we should expect going forward, one in which Walmart makes conciliatory statements about its plans and then blithely changes its mind?"

By Robert Blondeau

You recently published an article on Michelle Hiskey's Saporta Report profile of Intown Ace Hardware and its approach to the potential challenges faced by the proposed Walmart Supercenter in Suburban Plaza.  Thanks for your continuing coverage of this important community issue.

Included in Ms. Hiskey’s article was a clarifying note from Walmart's Director of Community & Media Relations, William C. "Bill" Wertz.  

Here's the note from Michelle Hiskey:

After this story was published, Wal-Mart's Director of Community & Media Relations, William C. "Bill" Wertz, notified me of this correction: "There will be a garden center in our new store. It was overlooked in some preliminary discussions with the community, but we corrected that back in October of 2011. The GC [garden center] is in our official application and has been discussed at multiple public meetings and approved by the [DeKalb] county board of zoning appeals."

Mr. Wertz’s comment greatly concerns me because it directly contradicts information coming from Walmart in November. Senior Manager of Public Affairs and Government Relations, Glen Wilkins, expressly stated during the November 2 Clairmont Heights community meeting and the November 30 Decatur Heights community meeting that there would not be a garden center in the proposed Walmart Supercenter.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle’s November 11 story, “Selig to Add Walmart, Rework Decatur Center,” confirmed this as follows: “The new Walmart will sell general merchandise and groceries, but will not have a tire center nor a garden center, said Glenn Wilkins, senior manager of public affairs and government relations for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. ‘We just don’t have the room to do it.’”

The public meetings and the Atlanta Business Chronicle article occurred after the date when Mr. Wertz claimed that Walmart had corrected the so-called oversight regarding the inclusion of a garden center at the proposed Suburban Plaza Walmart Supercenter.  As a resident of a neighborhood that would be directly impacted by a Walmart in Suburban Plaza, I find Mr. Wertz’s misstatement problematic.

If the proposed Walmart Supercenter is built, is this the type of relationship we should expect going forward, one in which Walmart makes conciliatory statements about its plans and then blithely changes its mind?

Also, Mr. Wertz mentions an “official application” and an approval of the garden center by the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals. I am not at all clear what Mr. Wertz is talking about.  Area community groups and DeKalb County’s Interim Director of Planning and Sustainability, Gary Cornell, only know of one application that has been submitted and approved: the parking exception that allows for reduced parking.  If there is an “official application” that DeKalb County’s planning director does not know about, would Mr. Wertz be willing to share that information?

Thanks again for your excellent coverage of local issues. 

(Robert Blondeau lives in the Medlock Park neighborhood, close to the site of the proposed Walmart.)


Here are some other Decatur Patch stories about the proposed Walmart at Suburban Plaza.

Steve April 28, 2012 at 10:39 PM
The County can't dictate what is sold in the store, unless special licensing is required, which a garden center does not. Their concern is confined to the footprint, the square footage, and whether it conforms to zoning. Whether or not there is a an indoor or outdoor garden center is not the County's concern.
Victoria Webb April 29, 2012 at 12:56 PM
As many of us thought at the outset of talks on this project, any concessions made by the developer and Walmart to both the county and the neighborhoods will be worthless. This has become a community issue. If Walmart is going to say one thing before they get their exception to a variance and after they're 'in', change direction, then the community certainly can't count on them to be a good business neighbor. The issue that GGD has always been concerned about is loss of local business to the superstore. Walmart's history of pushing out ALL local business in its path to take the market share around them, is staring us in the face. The question for the community now is are you really willing to trade the beloved Intown Hardware for another lousy Walmart who could care less about your neighborhood or its own workers? Is the price worth it? Not for this citizen.
Steve April 29, 2012 at 01:12 PM
It sure doesn't look like WM pushed out local business on Memorial Drive - it's a pretty thriving area, even with a brand new SunTrust bank. Also, if you read folks comments about Intown Ace Hardware, you'll find a lot of local business loyalty and customer service that WM can't provide. They're pretty smart business people and they're not worried. BTW, where has GGD been in the discussion about major expansion of YDFM? It could cause traffic problems that would make the WM project look like a back alley. And, it's expanded product line is sure to run local businesses out.
Deanne April 29, 2012 at 01:57 PM
Wertz's statement was totally botched, and Robert is right that it contradicts what was said at the community meetings ( although I vaguely recall Glen Wilkins responding to a question at the Nov. 2 MANA Mtg--not CHCA-- that the store will carry things like potting soil and shovels). The Garden Center change came up during negotiations when Walmart pulled it from the agreement because their plan has a bump-out area to house advertised seasonal plants and patio furniture, and they didn't want the language to (jinx!) become an issue. It was a non negotiable point, but Walmart agreed to permissible building area outlines on their plan to assure us that a large outdoor area wouldn't be added. The conceptual plan shown at the community meetings has the bump-out, and the permissable building area version was delivered w/ the agreement docs. Walmart's final plan isn't ready yet, but it's unlikely to have a large outdoor garden area since there won't be easy customer parking or forklift access. For folks' consideration: Glen Wilkins met with the owners of Intown Ace on Thursday (the same week the article came out). Yes, it should have been handled better, but it also matters how folks deal with things when they realize they've messed up. Walmart could have blown it off-- after all, the contract's been signed-- but they didn't.
Deanne April 29, 2012 at 02:01 PM
Speaking of dealing w/ things when you get it wrong: Victoria, you've repeatedly said that Walmart deceived folks about the mixed use plans for the Memorial Dr. store. Turns out Walmart wasn't responsible for building anything other than their store. A developer not affiliated with Walmart was supposed to build the condos and office part. Do you plan to own up and fix it, or are you good with leaving false information out there?
reelmind April 29, 2012 at 03:43 PM
Thank you Robert for your careful review on the subject. At a neighborhood party last night, people remembered what they heard at the Selig community meetings about the garden issue, soil and tools inside- yes, outside garden center- no and so neighbors heard the backtracking on this. My question is if the MARTA station is to have a "Park and Ride" at SP, how with reduced parking by 500 spaces due to the parking variance will this effect the congestion here. I know MARTA's station is a long way off but are MARTA and Selig not communicating with their design plans?
Robert April 29, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Deanne, I know that we're on opposite sides of this particular issue, but I think we're both coming at it from wanting what's best for the neighborhood. With that said, you refer to a signed contract and I'm trying to clarify exactly what contract you're referring to. Do you mean the contract between Selig and Walmart? Thanks.
Robert April 29, 2012 at 05:38 PM
@Steve, a few neighbors and reporters have asked GGD about the Farmers Market expansion. At the moment, we simply do not have the capacity to address more than one issue at a time. We only formed this year and we think its in our best interest to not get spread too thin. It's an important issue and the kind we hopefully will be able to address in the future once we further strengthen our volunteer network. It's simply a matter of bandwidth at this point.
Steve April 29, 2012 at 05:48 PM
@Robert, yeah, but there's an opportunity for GGD to get in at the beginning of the process and be proactive rather than reactive.
Deanne April 29, 2012 at 07:25 PM
Robert- Yes. The contract between Selig and Walmart has been signed.
Victoria Webb April 29, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Deanne, Walmart and the developer were initially involved in concessions to the Avondale community to build mixed use. Walmart got off the hook by outsourcing the deal to another developer, but the agreement was originally on Walmart's and the developer's shoulders. Other concessions - like what kind of façade the building would have - were nixed as well, only after Walmart was granted access. Walmart is able to avoid concessions all over the country (and world for that matter), by letting itself off the hook once it gets into a community. Outsourcing is the way it handles many of these deals, and it has also been implicated in many, many violations of EPA's Clean Water Act and Federal asbestos abatement regulations. That last part is what really scares me about this project - but demolition will be Selig's responsibility. The same developer who has neglected Suburban Plaza for some 20 years. You may be interested in reading about Walmart's current brouhaha in Mexico, in the New York Times last week. Barry Lynn's Feb. 2012 article in Harper's, "Killing the Competition", on big monopolies and their effect on the world's economy, is chilling. Steve, it might help to have conversations with neighbors who live near the Avondale Walmart. There is one bank there now, but many neighbors of mine complain about the lack of other businesses on Memorial. In fact, there was a recent post on this blog about the issue. I live nearby and crime has increased in the immediate area.
Steve April 29, 2012 at 09:29 PM
"there was a recent post on this blog about the issue. I live nearby and crime has increased in the immediate area." I saw that, but without statistics, it's subjective, hearsay, information. Take a drive down Memorial and see the local businesses, including new businesses and other national retailers. You're still trying to deal with the issue on moral, not legal, grounds, and that won't win the day. BTW, does the complaint about lack of banks mean that your neighbors actually go [all the way down] to Memorial Drive? If they do, are they patronizing the local businesses or going to the hated WM?
Deanne April 30, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Victoria- I've read the Crossroad News articles on the Memorial Dr. project, and haven't found a hint that Walmart pulled a scam. I'm willing to keep reading, so please point out any related info. It must exist somewhere if it's true. And if it is, why didn't you step up to address it then-- or for that matter, why not now? The property can still be developed. My take away from what I read: Whatever made folks think Walmart or any developer would be interested in funding fantasies?!? With the Memorial Dr. store-- sure, pitch a movie theater and art galleries-- just make sure you have them lined up. These folks aren't in the business of bringing “nice to visit occasionally” concepts to life. And this major disconnect where folks think they can try to block Walmart and insult them to get what they want?!? When Avondale residents angrily rejected Walmart, y'all canceled any “right” to add your two cents; still, Walmart came back with a mixed use plan and met the requests for closing off back access, no guns & ammo, and reduced store hours. As for aesthetics, it has an attractive exterior and a nice interior (and the natural light really improves shopping!). Seems the Memorial Dr. store also did a good job of connecting with the nearby communities that welcomed them. I'm pretty much impressed that Walmart took the valuable insights gained into account for its future urban projects, and I'm glad that Suburban Plaza will be reaping the benefits.
Deanne April 30, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Link to post referenced: http://decatur.patch.com/articles/letter-to-the-editor-resident-says-walmart-didnt-help-neighborhood (* There's also more than one bank in that area.)
Joanne May 01, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Deanne, If you do not have a copy of the contract between Selig and Walmart, which by your own admission you do not have, then you are willfully spreading mistruths about its definitive existence and what is contained therein.
Deanne May 01, 2012 at 11:08 PM
Joanne- I shared the answer given by the Selig folks in a conversation last week. If you don't trust it, then do your own facts finding. Good luck with demanding to see a private contract.
Joanne May 02, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Deanne, You stated the existence of a contract between Selig and Walmart as a fact. It is only when I pushed you on where you got your information that you divulged that you haven't actually seen one.
Deanne May 02, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Joanne- I gave the answer supplied by Selig (w/ their permission). I should've added "Selig said," so I'll do it going forward. Folks will have to decide if I'm a credible source. If it turns out that I am just making stuff up, then Selig or Walmart will publicly address it, just as they've done when People For a Better Athens, GGD's aligned group, has put out false information.
Deanne May 02, 2012 at 05:16 PM
reelmind- When talking to the Selig folks last week, they said MARTA hasn't contacted them-- said that's standard, and they wouldn't expect to hear from them until a much later stage. They also said that since that transit segment's now been yanked from the proposal, if it passes, it'll be many years before it comes up again.
Ms. May 03, 2012 at 02:41 AM
"I live nearby and crime has increased in the immediate area." Well, according to an editorial here on Patch last week, it's probably because y'all people so ghetto over there! LOL
Laura Martin May 10, 2012 at 05:43 PM
WalMart AND/OR DeKalb County Government destroyed the Crowley Mausoleum that crowned the Columbia parking area for decades. Another piece of antebellum history destoyed all for the love of the almighty dollar. Walmart will erect another big box that will be abandon like many others in 10 years, and they will leave the hull for the neighborhood to deal with. The time to play nice with these cads is over - I'm ready to grab my pitchfork and riot. Effing Walmart will never see my money.
Ms. May 10, 2012 at 08:51 PM
"The time to play nice with these cads is over - I'm ready to grab my pitchfork and riot." If burning an effigy of the "enemy" Steve Selig will make you feel better then go for it, turn over a few cars if you like. Sounds like a good time for a reminder about this tactic, the WTO riots in Seattle cost the city and businesses about $30 million dollars, and what changed?
Julie Feely May 11, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Laura: Good news - the mausoleum still stands in the original location. You can access the site via the NAPA Auto Parts outparcel (there is no direct vehicle or visual access from the Walmart development). Hopefully, any future development will respect and conserve the mausoleum for future generations.


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