North Hall residents have begun rallying against possible expansion of Wal-Mart on Thompson Bridge Road. But city and county officials say rumors are feeding much of the fury and Wal-Mart is nowhere near building on the land.
“I want everyone out there to know this because I know there’s been a big uproar,” City Councilman Danny Dunagan said. “There have been no applications for rezoning or annexation applied for at the city.”
Dunagan confirmed that Wal-Mart is considering building its grocery chain, Neighborhood Market, at the property, but said the company is also looking at a small handful of other locations in Hall County. He said the city is at least six months to a year away from seeing Wal-Mart build in town and that there is still apt time for public comment.
“They’ve got an option on the property,” he said. “They are looking at different sites in Hall County. ... It’s just a look-and-see type thing. They’ll find a piece of property that they think is suitable and they’ll take an option on it.”
Wal-Mart officials did not respond to a request for other locations being considered.
Both city and county zoning officials confirmed Monday they have not been in contact with either Wal-Mart or the owners of the property on Thompson Bridge about rezoning the land.
“The factual truth is that neither me nor no one in my staff have been approached from anybody, real estate agent, developer, any Wal-Mart representatives, about any potential development at that site,” said Randy Knighton, the county’s planning and zoning director. “I mean nothing.”
The land on Thompson Bridge between Spring View Drive and Mountain View Drive is zoned as residential. It is a small section of county land surrounded by the city’s Ward 1, Dunagan’s district.
The land falls within Hall County Commissioner Ashley Bell’s jurisdiction, and Bell said he has not been a part of any discussions regarding the annexation of the property.
According to Wal-Mart’s website, the average Neighborhood Market is about 42,000 square feet, compared to 185,000 square feet at a Walmart Supercenter.
But local residents say even if the store is smaller than the average Walmart, they’re not interested.
Early Monday, Linda Roseberry stood at the shoulder of Thompson Bridge Road with a poster in the shape of a stop sign reading “Stop Wal-Mart.” She planned to picket there again today and Wednesday and said she’s concerned about both the development and the possibility of annexation.
“(Wal-Mart is) not community affiliated,” she said. “And I think we are 25 minutes away from four Walmarts. Wal-Mart should exist in our economy, but it belongs where there is commercial viability for it.”
Roseberry’s neighborhood association, Honeysuckle Hills Homeowners Association, plans to gather this week to plan its response. She said she’s worried the development is further along than residents have been told.
Dunagan said until he sees more substantial information regarding Wal-Mart’s intentions, he couldn’t decide if it’s a project he would support. He did say that stretch of Thompson Bridge Road is a four-lane highway he sees as being under-utilized.
City Councilman George Wangeman also said it is too early to weigh in, as Wal-Mart is looking at several locations.
Bell said several residents have contacted him regarding the matter and he feels there are other locations for which the development would be better suited.
According to the county’s Geographic Information Systems maps, the parcels of land in question are owned by Elaine Turner, Harold Pinson and Roper Roper and Carter Enterprises.
When contacted at their homes Monday, David Donald Roper, Turner and Pinson each refused comment.
If Wal-Mart were to build in Gainesville, city Planning Director Rusty Ligon said the rezoning process would take about three months and would include meetings for public comment.
Ligon said any county property connected to city land must be annexed if the builders want to tie into the city’s sewer system.
Dunagan said there have been discussions about annexing the land if Wal-Mart chooses to build there.
In 2004, residents successfully stopped the rezoning of land and development of a Walmart store on Thompson Bridge Road between Southers and Price roads.