NewsPub Notes

Pub Notes

“The proposed Wal-Mart supercenter (the third in this region!) is a very bad idea because:

  1. It would bring thousands more cars and trucks a day to already jam-packed, dangerous streets;
  2. It could result in a net loss (not gain) in taxes by forcing smaller stores out of business…
  3. It would put people out of work or force them to trade good jobs with benefits for hourly, part-time, low-paying jobs at Wal-Mart;
  4. It would mean Wal-Mart’s huge profits would all go to Bentonville, Ark., not Athens-Clarke County;
  5. It would be in direct violation of our existing and our new land-use plan, for which we paid a half-million dollars to safeguard the quality of our lives and the value of our homes and businesses;
  6. It would result in huge retaining walls and massive hillside cuts and fill, destroying the natural beauty of the area;
  7. It would mean that 70 or more acres of land around the Wal-Mart site would also go commercial because, if Wal-Mart is rezoned, a precedent would be set…

A Wal-Mart supercenter on the Atlanta Highway? Totally unacceptable!â€

This letter to the Banner-Herald was written in 1999 by Burt Sparer, who at the time was president of the Federation of Neighborhood Associations. Burt was summing up the group’s objections to building a Walmart off the Atlanta Highway, in the Mitchell Bridge Road vicinity. They won that fight, because the project required rezoning.

Burt Spararer died right before Christmas this year, and probably few in the present Walmart fight know who he was. That’s understandable, because such struggles are in the moment, aimed at the future, not the past. Even so, we start from a better position, with stronger laws in place, and we benefit from the commitment and effort people like Burt have put in before us to pave the way.

Burt was a professional planner who aided local governments all over Northeast Georgia in a variety of capacities. When he retired, he put his time and talents into efforts to improve his own community, working through the precursor to Community Connection, the Mental Health Association and the Federation of Neighborhoods, among others.

Burt was by dint of long hard work and travel an expert on local government. That made him really valuable as an ally when citizen groups found themselves up against developers bent on destroying their neighborhoods. When Burt was getting started, all the balance was tipped toward the developers. Local government was dominated by them, and citizens had few counterweights. Gradually, people like Burt started getting neighborhoods familiar with techniques for exerting citizen influence, and that citizen influence was felt when Athens Regional Medical Center was stopped from wholesale destruction of homes on King Avenue. It was felt in Five Points when Eckerd was convinced not to build where the fire station eventually went, and in many other land use issues, such as the recent one where citizens were successful in stopping a giant convenience store/gas station on Broad Street. Burt was a big guy, and we stand on his shoulders.

It’s because of people like Burt that we have a history of citizens demanding and getting results, and we can hope citizens will have an affect on the current Walmart “right idea in the wrong place.â€

There was something else about Burt that we can all benefit from, too. He was strong and insistent in his advocacy. He was concerned about his town, but he was concerned, too, about the people who make up the community. He had a way of getting down to issues but also being open to the concerns of the human beings who were grappling with those problems. He might ask you, “How’s it going?†But he would also ask you, “How’re you doing?†And he wouldn’t accept a facile answer to either question. Maybe that’s why his impact was so great, because ultimately he understood that a community is not an abstract entity but a group of people trying to figure out how to live their lives together. Because he cared about both dimensions, Burt Sparer was a leader and a healer. It’s because of people like Burt that we have the kind of community we enjoy here, and why we have an obligation to continue trying to make it better for us all.