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2000-12-09
Asheville, NC. Wal-Mart is Ashes in Asheville

On September 7, 2000, newsflash brought you the story of Wal-Mart's woes in Asheville, North Carolina. This is a community where Wal-Mart already has two "old" discount stores. Wal-Mart petitioned the city's Board of Adjustment in September for a zoning variance to use an old bleacheries site. The developer, JDN, asked for a variance to the requirements of the "River Resource Yard" ordinance to permit a large shopping center anchored by a Wal-Mart supercenter on the banks of the Swannanoa River. A standing room only crowd of opponents watched as the Board of Adjustment denied the JDN variance. Opponents argued that JDN was trying to generate a greater return on the property, but that did not fit the defintion of "hardship", one component of the variance requirement. The Wal-Mart variance failed to get the 4 votes needed to pass. On the southern side of town, Wal-Mart was also seeking approval for a 210,000 s.f. supercenter. When that plan came before the City Council on November 14, more than 250 people packed the hearing room. Wal-Mart offered to color its huge store more aesthetically pleasing colors, but representatives of the Asheville Direct Action Network made it clear that no color change would change the mind of opponents. Wal-Mart was seeking a conditional use permit for the so-called Gerber site, a 25 acre parcel zoned for industry or commercial, to replace the "old" Wal-Mart located just a few blocks away. To grant a conditional use permit under the City's Unified Development Ordinance, Wal-Mart had to show, among other things, that its new store was "reasonably necessary", would not injure the value of abutting property, was in harmony with the scale of the surrounding area, was in compliance with the city's Comprehensive Plan, and would not cause undue traffic congestion. During the hearing process, Wal-Mart agreed to pony up $300,000 for road improvements and signalization. But the City Council voted 6-1 against the conditional use permit. One Council member noted that the city does not have many large tracts of land suitable for industrial purposes, and that these should be reserved for industries that provide better-paying jobs than Wal-Mart. Mayor Leni Sitnick voted against the Wal-Mart, saying "with a 21% growth in traffic projected for this area, this one project was going to be responsible for fully one-third of it. Wow!" Finally, on December 5th, Wal-Mart and the Gerber site landowner announced that they were giving up on the project. Wal-Mart said it had become too expensive to pursue. "The project has gone on for quite a while," Wal-Mart told the Asheville newspapers. "For a number of reasons, it's not really feasible any more." But Wal-Mart made it clear that they hope to rise again from their ashes. "We're going to take a fresh look at Asheville," the company said. "I can't tell you when and where and how something will happen." The landowner had indicated that he was trying to get Wal-Mart to put up more money to help the state widen part of the road near the site, but the owner "just couldn't come to terms with (Wal-Mart)...the economics got to the point where it wasn't feasible." Because the Council turned the project down, Wal-Mart's only choice was to take the case to court, which could drag on for a year or two, or wait one year to resubmit their plans. Either way, a store on that site was not going to happen in the near future.

What you can do: Keep in mind that Wal-Mart already has two existing stores in Asheville. Probably when they were approved, local residents had not idea that the company would come back so quickly to relocate and close down the stores. North Carolina already ranks high on the national list of states with "dead" Wal-Marts. The city's Unified Development Code gave citizens enough factors to turn this project into ashes, most notably the traffic problems. Wal-Mart was recently quoted in Business Week as saying they only lose 2 or 3 stores a year to citixen opposition. Here's one case where they lost 2 just in one city. See stories below for more examples of communities which are slam-dunking Wal-Mart. For more info on Asheville, contact info@sprawl-busters.com










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

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