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Planning Commission OKs Wal-Mart variance

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

ALBANY -- After a lengthy debate pitting pedestrian safety and future construction against a request from the developer of a planned East Albany Wal-Mart store, the Albany-Dougherty Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve a variance for the retail giant.

The request, filed by developer Meyers Brothers Properties LLC, asked for a variance that would allow for the planned parking lot of the Wal-Mart at the intersection of Cordele Road and Clark Avenue to shrink from 938 spaces to 827 spaces and to allow for the omission of sidewalks along the periphery of the store.

MBP officials say they have nearly completed drawing up plans for the store, which is now scheduled to break ground in late March or early April. Georgian Mobile Estates Inc. is still the owner of the land, but sale of the property to Wal-Mart may largely depend on the design plans submitted, MBP's Elexa Wagaman said.

After considering the application, the planning and zoning staff recommended approval of a variance on the parking spaces but denial of the sidewalk request.

The concern was that since the Wal-Mart would likely attract pedestrian foot traffic, there could be safety concerns associated with not having an adequate sidewalk.

MBP's concern was that the Georgia Department of Transportation had approved a long-range plan that incorporates sidewalks along Cordele Road and Clark Avenue as part of a planned widening of Clark Avenue into a six-lane highway, and that it doesn't make sense to pay for sidewalks that will be ripped up by GDOT in five to six years, Wagaman said.

Additionally, there are concerns that the Wal-Mart project itself is in such a delicate stage that any additional hurdles, hoops or expense the company is made to endure could be the tipping point to yank the project altogether.

Commissioner Aaron Johnson said he was concerned about the safety of pedestrians in the area that would flock to the location, especially considering the likelihood that GDOT may not approve funding for the widening project eight years from now.

"With the situation like it is in the Legislature, they may not be willing to fund the project in six to eight years," Johnson said. "We can't just think about today, we have to look ahead. I know we're economically desperate, but we still have to "

Commissioner Steve Kaplan said he understood the concerns for safety but that the Wal-Mart project is too vital to risk on something for which there is limited or no data.

"For this commission to risk jeopardizing this project for something for which there is no information to suggest how many people will or will not be walking through this location is a concern," Kaplan said. "This project is too vital to all of the people in Albany and Dougherty County to risk."

Wagaman said Wal-Mart had, on several occasions, reconsidered the development but that every time the board has voted to keep the project moving forward.

The recommendation to approve the variance will now go to the full Albany City Commission for final approval.

"If the City Commission passes the variance, that would essentially be the last real hurdle in the process," Wagaman said. "It should be a smooth process for the rest of the way."