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Wal-Mart Variance Request Postponed

With an overflow crowd of neighborhood activists looking on, developers of the proposed Super Wal-Mart on the Swannanoa River were granted a continuance today (July 24) of their request for a variance from the city's Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).

The city's Board of Adjustment voted unanimously to grant the continuance. The board's next meeting is set for Aug. 28, according to city planner Dan Baechtold.

Ralph Knauss of JDN Associates, the Atlanta-based developer spearheading the Super Wal-Mart project, told the board that he and his staff had "no reasonable opportunity to respond" to the findings of the city's planning staff. Knauss said he received the findings last Friday afternoon, July 21.

According to Baechtold, city planning staff were recommending that the Board of Adjustment deny the variance request. Requests for variance from the UDO are judged on seven criteria. Baechtold said JDN's request failed all seven criteria.

Jim Siemens, an attorney representing east Asheville neighborhoods adjacent to the Sayles property, noted that Knauss met with city planning staff before the Board of Adjustment meeting. Baechtold confirmed that Knauss met with Gerald Green, the city's chief planner, before the Board of Adjustment's 2 p.m. meeting today.

Siemens said he believes that city staff "have come up with some alternative proposals that would allow them [JDN] to continue with their development" of a Super Wal-Mart center. Green could not be reached for comment.

Siemens said he believes JDN will continue to seek a variance, but he expressed concern that the developer may find other ways to keep the project alive without seeking a variance.

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