This Year--Sandfly Development Controversy

One of many activist signs.
One of many activist signs.
The 52-acre lot in question.
The 52-acre lot in question.
Protesters of Save Our Sandfly.
Protesters of Save Our Sandfly.
One of many meetings on the topic.
One of many meetings on the topic.

It's a new version of David and Goliath. A small group from a small neighborhood, Sandfly, took on giant retailer Target. They won that battle, but soon faced another, and a bigger challenge. Stopping Wal-Mart. Their signs plaster their community, but can Save Our Sandfly win this one?

"I don't want a Wal-Mart here," said resident Courtney Follack.

That sentiment fueled a fight over 52 acres of land on Montgomery Cross Road, right in the middle of their community. It was a struggle that would go on for months. Save Our Sandfly had been protesting against bringing in any big business. Group activists say their community is home to many historical sites, and they believe a large business would ruin their close-knit community.

"We want to let people know we are not against development, but we think big business will destroy our historic community," said James Miller of Save Our Sandfly. "Responsible growth is the key."

In August, news that Wal-Mart wanted to build a super center there divided many.

"I think there are pros and cons both to having a Wal-Mart store, but I think they can do a nice job with a shopping center in this area," opined resident Liz Ambros.

Others said build it somewhere else.

"We have certain traditions that we hold dear to us and Wal-Mart coming in here will disrupt that," said Samuel Berkstire.

In September, the NAACP joined their fight.

"The NAACP locally, state, regionally and nationally is always on the side of the oppressed," said spokesman Richard Shinhoster of the Savannah NAACP. "And we see this development as being very oppressive to the Sandfly community."

Save Our Sandfly took its concerns to the Chatham County Commission over a technicality in zoning ordinances, but commissioners said it was too late to change.

"You can't change the game once it's started," Commissioner Dean Kicklighter said. "Wal-Mart has already applied for this. They've already applied to build there. The county cannot act without getting sued. The county would lose."

After striking out at the commission, activists went to the Metropolitan Planning Commission. But after weeks of debates, the MPC gave Wal-Mart the go-ahead to build.

"We're just relieved that we can move on with our plan," Wal-Mart spokesperson Mike Driver said. "Start building and serve the customers in this community better."

But Save Our Sandfly vowed to keep fighting.

"A lawsuit will be the normal legal thing to do, but there may be other options to keep this out," said Miller.

Including the court of public opinion led by efforts like a rally in November. So 2002 is ending for residents of Sandfly much like it started, with a fight to preserve the land and their neighborhood, and it's a fight that they expect will last a better part of next year.

Join us as we count down the 11 biggest stories of the year on Saturday, December 28, at 9pm on WOTC-TV.

Reported by: Liz Flynn,