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Wal-Mart could set up on either side of county line

By Justin Boron

Right now, property east of Interstate 675 and north of Anvil Block Road is much like it was two years ago - mostly kudzu, clay, and some existing homes sprinkled throughout.

But property owners there still believe they can transform the close to 400-acre area into the 1-million square feet of commercial space and 800 residential units for which it was initially planned in 2003.

And now Wal-Mart is invited, said Hugh Morton, one of three partners for the project.

"We've been talking," he said. "Right now, we don't know what Wal-Mart is going to do."

Since the store pulled back from its intention to build along Fairview Road in Henry County, the Villages of Ellenwood development has emerged as a likely alternative for Wal-Mart, about five minutes down the road from where it originally planned to go.

Emory Brock, the Clayton County director of economic development, said he thought the mixed-use village site would be a much better location for Wal-Mart given its proximity to a freeway.

"I'm sure that (the property owners) are courting them, trying to get them," he said.

Glen Wilkins, the regional spokesman for the company, said he wouldn't discount the possibility either.

"We're probably talking to a lot of different people," he said, explaining that the company was still actively looking for another spot to serve that community. "We don't think it's fair that our customers have to drive so far."

Meanwhile, the Henry County Board of Commissioners earlier this week granted the zoning for the Wal-Mart at Fairview Road and Anvil Block Road with a litany of stipulations.

Property owners, who decided to go ahead with their rezoning application despite Wal-Mart's stated intent to scrap the plan, said they were hoping to bring back the store.

Wilkins said after the zoning, that Wal-Mart is still considering the possibility.

Where Wal-Mart will finally end up is unclear.

Both in Henry and Clayton counties, a commitment from a major anchor like Wal-Mart would be likely to alter dramatically the community.

In Henry County, where several citizens have vigorously fought the planned store, supporters say it could bring new tax revenue to the area. But its critics say traffic would worsen and values could actually go down.

In Clayton County, Wal-Mart could bolster the Ellenwood village development, which has been slow to progress and changed investors over the past two years.

In 2003, it was made part of a tax allocation district that would trade tax incentives for increased property value and infrastructure improvements for the area.

The development would get the sewer and a widening of Anvil Block Road needed to support several interconnected neighborhoods and a massive commercial section. Developers plan to link the neighborhoods with streets and eight-foot wide cart paths, and the commercial would feature a movie theater and several major retailers.

Clearing has already begun for 125-lot neighborhood and a 141-lot neighborhood, Morton said.

But the district as a whole rests on whether the Clayton County Board of Commissioners avoids altering the development plan further, he said.

Rezonings that have reduced the number of units in the plan have left little flexibility on the project, Morton said. If the development does not accommodate at least 800 residential units, tax incentives could be lost.

"Rezoning anything else could kill the project," Morton said.

Clayton County Commissioner Carl Rhodenizer, who represents the Ellenwood area, said he is confident that the project will remain intact.

Daily Herald staff writer Michael Davis contributed to this article.