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Asheville - City Planning Director Scott Shuford and Chief Planner Gerald Green met with citizen members of Community Supported Development (CSD) Aug. 9 and revealed that Wal-Mart recently submitted a design revision for its proposed construction on the Sayles Bleachery site in East Asheville.
Shuford said the revised plan will not trigger a new planning review process because the changes do not exceed the city's threshold of a 20 percent increase or decrease in the scope of the project. The changes are mainly limited to site grading and design. Building size and placement as well as parking remain the same, Shuford said. He was unclear as to whether the topographic changes in the new proposal would require reassessment by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) regarding flood dangers.
City planners expect to finalize their recommendation on Wal-Mart's variance request Aug. 21. Diagrams of the updated plans are currently available from the Planning Department. The Board of Adjustment (BOA) will consider the variance request at 2 p.m., Sept. 5, in the Public Works Building on South Charlotte Street.
City Council has tentatively set a public hearing on the project for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 19 at the Stephens-Lee Center (30 George Washington Carver Street at Martin Luther King Drive), Shuford said.
"We have to respond to the hundreds of thousands of people who will go to Wal-Mart," Shuford responded when the city was criticized for not being more attentive to the concerns of groups like CSD. "We need to meet the needs of all groups," he said.
"Asheville is a regional center, and our planning has to look beyond our boundaries [otherwise] it capitulates to sprawl development," Shuford said. The city's Sustainable Economic Development Plan does seek to guide growth by looking at Asheville as well as the surrounding region holistically. However, beyond traffic concerns, the Planning Department hasn't examined the combined impact two Wal-Mart super-centers would have, Shuford said. Instead, the projects have been considered as unrelated, conditional-use permit requests for two large commercial developments, he explained.
CSD participants noted that Wal-Mart's proposed super-center sites at Sayles Bleachery and the former Gerber plant on Hendersonville Road are approximately 12 miles apart. This close proximity, they claimed, violates Wal-Mart's own guidelines for keeping super-centers at least 35 miles apart. "This is not fair competition," said CSD's Sharon Martin, who added that a third super-center is planned for Hendersonville.
"Our job is to give city council our best guess on the impact of both projects," Shuford said, but this has yet to include consideration of what effect three noncompeting super-centers would have on locally owned businesses.
Shuford also explained that recent discovery of ground water contamination at the Sayles site falls under state jurisdiction and would therefore not be a factor in his department's evaluation and recommendation.
Ned Guttman, a CSD member, expressed concern that the Technical Review Committee and city engineers approved a retention pond at the Sayles site based on drawings alone. No formal plans have, to date, been submitted, he said, leaving no opportunity for public review of this key flood-control element. The purpose of the retention pond will be to catch runoff to decrease flow into the river.
The River District is one of only a handful of zones in the city that sets no limit to the size of development, but the city can still use the conditional-use review process to reject detrimental projects, said Shuford.
Both super-centers will come under a new standard adopted by the city just last year that mandates architectural esthetics. "We were concerned about 'big box' types of development," Shuford explained. "We need feedback on what you want development to look like."
Shuford advised that citizens concerned about either super-center be prepared to raise their concerns at upcoming city hearings. He said speakers should be prepared to think on their feet because comments are subject to question and challenge. Shuford even advised rehearsing with someone else playing devil's advocate.
Shuford told the CSD group that city planning helps developers comply with the city's Unified Development Ordinance but added that his department is obligated to assist citizen groups who oppose development projects as well. Shuford also explained that state law prohibits City Council and BOA members from publicly discussing the proposed project. If they did hear arguments outside of official proceedings, they would be leaving the door open to appeals later on, he said.
Shuford said letters as well as emails to his office regarding the proposed Wal-Mart projects have been added to the official record. To enter a statement into the official record, email the planning director(firstname.lastname@example.org) or write: Scott Shuford, P.O. Box 7148, Asheville, NC 28802.