City OKs Wal-Mart zoning

Published 2:07 pm Monday, April 16, 2007

By By Kerry Whipple Bean – publisher
Despite renewed opposition from neighboring residents, Brewton City Council members on Wednesday approved the rezoning of land for a new Wal-Mart Supercenter on U.S. 31 North.
The council's decision rezones three parcels of property on U.S. 31 across from Dogwood Hills from rural residential to general business. Wal-Mart is expected to build a new store there, more than doubling the size of the current store. The new store would employ an additional 125 people; developers could break ground on the project as soon as this summer.
Much of the opposition at the meeting came from adjacent landowners, who questioned the location for the new store as well as its impact on Brewton's economy.
Becky Lambert, who with her husband Earl owns property directly behind the Wal-Mart site, said the project will have a big impact on her home.
Some landowners said they did not think their opposition would make much difference for the project.
Lambert's husband, Earl, said that he had previously been told that the property was optioned for a new school, not for a Wal-Mart.
School officials have not announced a location for a planned new middle school, saying they want to wait until the Wal-Mart deal is official.
Earl Lambert said he would have welcomed a school in that location. &#8220We can't let the business community start telling us what to do,” he said.
Some residents did speak in favor of the Supercenter.
Brewton resident George Edwards said the location might not be ideal, but Brewton needs to &#8220go forward.”
Sandy Knowles, whose property is among those bought for the store, said Wal-Mart promised to restore the land that had been destroyed by another project.
Wal-Mart consultant Jerry O'Brien, who has been working on the Supercenter project for several years, said the company has made concessions to adjacent landowners, including rotating the building on the lot and adding more buffer space and trees between the back of the building and the property owners behind it.
O'Brien disagreed with landowners who said he and other Wal-Mart developers had &#8220threatened” the planning commission at its meeting last month that if they did not approve the rezoning, the project would not happen.
But Councilwoman Ann Marie Sasser said the developers had given residents a reason to think there was a threat.
O'Brien said he was simply saying that the project needed the outparcels - the small lots for businesses closest to U.S. 31 - to help make the best return on investment for the project.
The outparcels have been part of the dispute between developers and adjacent landowners, who asked that they be removed in order to move the Supercenter as far from their property as possible.
The company's next step will be to have their design plans approved by the city.
Mayor Ted Jennings and Councilman Henry Uptagrafft did not attend Wednesday's meeting because of ties to Wal-Mart.