Ellenwood preparing for surge in growth

By Diane Wagner

Ellenwood residents are bracing for the impact of a massive housing and shopping development to the west, but some are drawing the line at a Wal-Mart Supercenter to the east.

"There are at least 10 subdivisions that are going to be directly affected by this," Fairview Springs resident Aaron Caldwell said. "Most of them were built in the last seven years, and we bought with the understanding that this was a low-density residential area."

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners approved plans Thursday for Ellenwood Town Center, a 400-acre mixed-use project within 2,500 feet of the Henry and DeKalb county lines.

Construction at the site near Interstate 675 will bring nearly 1,000 houses, townhouses and apartments, a 4,224-seat multi-screen theater and a retail center stretching along Anvil Block Road from Bouldercrest past Grant Road.

At the same time, more than 100 area homeowners were at the Henry County Municipal Planning Commission meeting, registering opposition to a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter at the corner of Anvil Block and Fairview Road.

"There's no way Fairview Road can accommodate the influx of traffic that will be coming from Clayton and DeKalb counties," Fairfield Lakes resident Jimmy Etheridge said.

Planning Commission member Dawn Davis, who lives in the area, met with many of the residents prior to the meeting. She pointed out that Fairview is a two-lane road and unlikely to see significant improvement soon.

"It's going to ruin the quality of life for these residential neighborhoods," she said to sustained applause and a standing ovation.

But several longtime property owners in the area spoke in favor of the project.

Henry County native and real estate agent Debra Grant said four generations of her family have paid taxes on the adjacent land.

"There's a lot of business to come to this area, and I'd bet everyone in this room has been in a Wal-Mart," she said. "Henry County will hurt itself, and end up raising property taxes, if we lose it all to Clayton County."

The Ellenwood Town Center project is expected to generate about $16 million a year in local tax revenues, according to a report from the development company.

Attorney Bruce McFarland, representing the owners of the Wal-Mart property, did not discuss figures for the proposed Ellenwood store.

But plans for another Wal-Mart Supercenter, at Hudson Bridge Road and Interstate 75 in Stockbridge, are undergoing review by the Atlanta Regional Commission. The report from the developers estimates local revenue at $9.5 million in property and sales tax each year.

McFarland said Cook Drive "would be a good line of demarcation" between the residential area and "the commercial extending up Fairview Road." About nine acres of the site are already zoned for commercial use.

The planning commission tabled the application while to company conducts an in-depth traffic study. Meanwhile, McFarland and Davis said they would organize a town hall meeting for nearby residents.

"In the end we believe, despite what the impact looks like now, that this will be a positive development for the area," McFarland said.

With a traffic study expected to take about a month, it will likely be January before the planning commission sends its recommendation to the Henry County Board of Commissioners. The board will make the final decision.