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2006-04-13
Asheville,NC Wal-Mart Withdraws Unpopular Superstore Plan

Neighbors could hear the sound for miles. When Wal-Mart dropped its plans to locate a 184,000 s.f. supercenter in Asheville, North Carolina, local residents didn't mind the noise one bit. Especially happy were the 50 families in a mobile home park who would have lost their homes in the land deal. The Arkansas retailer announced this week that its plans for a West Asheville supercenter were being scrapped -- literally hours before they were to present the plan to the City Council. Most of the 29 acre site Wal-Mart wanted is zoned commercial, but about 6 acres is residential, so they needed a rezoning. The change in plans was brought about by the political reality that Wal-Mart was likely to lose the vote. Rather than get voted out, Wal-Mart pulled the plug itself. According to the Asheville Citizen-Times, Wal-Mart needed a supermajority of six out of seven votes on the Council in order to build their store next to a Lowe's on Smoky Park Highway. The votes just weren't there. As always, Wal-Mart said it was a bad day not so much for them, but for their customers. "We're disappointed. We wanted to serve our customers in West Asheville," a Wal-Mart spokesperson said. Wal-Mart was facing stiff local opposition from residents who said their superstore would have a negative impact on businesses and was not worth destroying 50 units in a mobile home park that would have been leveled for Wal-Mart to build. One local opponent told the newspaper, "The public pressure we've helped mount and from independent sources probably made (Wal-Mart) realize they're not very welcome here. We're going to think about what else we can do to make sure they don't locate elsewhere in this immediate area, so we're not through with our work." The Asheville Planning and Zoning Commission and Planning Department both endorsed the project despite citizen opposition, but when residents filed a protest petition signed by abutters, it required the city council to approve the plan with a supermajority vote. Wal-Mart would not explain why they withdrew, saying only, "We think we did have a chance (of approval). Of course, with the supermajority, that's always difficult. It wasn't the council. There were other pieces of the puzzle that didn't come together. I'm not at liberty to get into the specifics of the deal." But at least 3 Council members told the newspaper they were leaning against the rezoning. One councilor admitted, "Honestly, I was surprised that (Wal-Mart) even went as far as they did. If I were Wal-Mart or the average citizen looking at the makeup of council, I don't see projects like Wal-Mart being successful."


What you can do: Instead of booting the 50 families from their homes, city officials have been urged to consider buying the land to allow the mobile home park to remain. This Wal-Mart controversy has now got some City Council members thinking about how to prevent these kinds of big box proposals in the future. The City Council may look at zoning changes that would make it harder for big-box stores to move into the city. "One of the more overarching concerns is not 'We don't want Wal-Mart,' it's that some of these proposals are just so gigantic," Councilor Brownie Newman told the newspaper. "It begs the question when you start getting above 75,000 or 100,000 square feet whether something fits with the scale and character of our community." This is the second Wal-Mart to be turned away in Asheville. Six years ago a similar plan was rejected. Under the city's current highway business district zone, a single retail store can build up to 75,000 square feet, or 112,000 square feet under certain conditions. But the limit rises to 200,000 square feet if there are multiple businesses in the same building. So a supercenter could claim it has several businesses under one roof, and build at the largest size. With Wal-Mart interested in this market, the city can be sure that they have not heard the last from the retailer. For earlier stories, search Newsflash by "Asheville."










 
 
"Norman has become the guru of the anti-Wal-Mart movement" ~ 60 Minutes

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