A Lidl grocery store is set to come to Marietta next year following approval last month by the City Council, but several business owners on the incoming store’s west side fear its presence will shutter their doors even sooner.
Based in Germany, Lidl is planning a 29,000-square-foot store to replace the empty Whitlock Avenue strip mall once anchored by an A&P. The store’s construction at 670 Whitlock Ave., west of Lindley Avenue, will lead to the demolition of the 37,000-square-foot structure built in 1974, which saw the Great A&P Co. grocery store close its doors in 1993.
Lidl plans to open its new location by the end of next year, according to company officials and Parker Blanchard, president of Atlanta-based Blanchard Real Estate, which bought the property in October for $1.85 million. But owners and tenants of a shopping center to the west, at 688 Whitlock Ave., told council members that they believe the grocer will harm their business through reducing visibility of their storefronts.
“As it stands right now, we’re going to be out of business in six months,” said Ed Hammock, owner of the 10,800-square-foot shopping center built in the 1980s.
His daughter who manages the center, commercial real estate broker Carol Hammock, said the grocer’s building would cause visibility loss to nine of its 13 storefronts. The center is positioned sideways off Whitlock Avenue with storefront entrances positioned at an angle, giving passers-by a view of all tenants from the Waffle House to the east all the way to the end of the center.
Tenants in the center include OK Alterations, which has been operating for 18 years, Kat’s Barbershop at 28 years and 2 Monkeys Tavern for three decades.
David Sands, owner of Raven’s Nest Games in the shopping center, was among the tenants to ask council members for a delay on their decision.
“When I first heard about there was finally going to be a real business, a Lidl, which I heard good things about, in that shopping center, I was ecstatic,” Sands said, “because I would finally get some more walk-up traffic, bound to get some more exposure to the business and some more accessibility to the business. Then I saw the plan, and I saw that as soon as it goes up, literally, me and the other businesses that are the neighbors I’ve had for 10 years now, we’re going to be in a back alley. We’re going to be stuck.”
But council members, following the motion by Councilman Johnny Walker, who oversees the area, ultimately went on to unanimously approve Lidl’s requests for variances at the site, including one that increases the maximum front setback off Whitlock Avenue from 75 feet to 125 feet. Walker in his motion added stipulations that a heavy landscape buffer be placed between the Lidl and shopping center, with the grocer reviewing the possibility of moving east away from the Hammocks’ property.
Lidl’s site plan will put the store’s back facing the front of the shopping center.
“My entire frontage will be looking at the back of Lidl,” Sands said. “All of it will be a brick wall with a bush in front of it soon. I feel like we had some concessions worked out verbally with the Lidl people, and then it seemed like at the last minute, those concessions softened considerably to (more of) a suggestion. The concessions that were given were softened to basically nothing.”
DEVELOPERS: SEWER LINE LIMITS
ABILITY TO SCOOT STORE
Councilman Grif Chalfant said that if the city did not grant Lidl the setback variance it had requested, then neighboring shopping center tenants would be even less visible.
“If we pull that thing up to where we’re supposed to be putting it, you can’t see (your) building from Whitlock,” Chalfant told those in opposition. “I think that everybody in the whole area is so tired of looking at the old A&P. We have tried to place everything we can on that site, and with the restrictions of that, we can’t get it on there … the next (possible building there) you get is going to cover your building. That’s what I’m getting at.”
Opponents had sought the delay to discuss with Lidl the possibility of moving its store away from the center toward the east. But Blanchard and Hunter Hyde, the latter of the Duluth-based Wolverton engineering firm, said the presence of a 54-inch storm sewer line on the site provides little to no room to move the store eastward.
“They bought the property knowing that the storm drain was there,” Carol Hammock told commissioners. “It just so happens that the end-user that they’re wanting to put there can’t turn the building sideways, or they can’t do it, or it’s not cost-effective. I understand that, but ultimately we’re bearing the cost of them not moving that storm drain, because they’re having to put the building on top of us.”
But a change of a few feet, Carol Hammock said after the meeting, would make a difference.
“Every little bit helped,” Carol Hammock said, adding that she had computed increased site lines for the tenants if the store were to move eastward.
“We’re disappointed,” she added. “The biggest piece that was detrimental for us was that Lidl had already started moving things and signing contracts and signing leases and doing construction work, which actually put the council under a deadline so they couldn’t table it, even though the council wanted to give us 30 days to talk to them since they had never approached us and never talked to us. They couldn’t because supposedly Lidl was under this deadline of this construction stuff that was already started.”
Based in Germany, Lidl operates about 10,500 stores in 29 countries, including more than 50 across nine East Coast states. The chain opened three metro Atlanta stores this year, including two in Cobb. One is at the corner of Barrett Parkway and Powder Springs Road southwest of Marietta and the other is in Mableton, on Floyd Road near the intersection of Nickajack Road.