Is the city of Asheville, North Carolina for sale? Last April, Newsflash reported that Wal-Mart had returned to the city of Asheville to try and create a Phoenix on the ashes of a previous defeat along the Swannanoa River. About a year and a half ago, Wal-Mart lost a bid to build on the 78 acre site known as the old Sayles-Biltmore Bleachery site in East Asheville. Developers promoting the project must have figured that if local officials were going to vote against their project, then rather than change the project, they would change the officials. According to the Mountain Xpress, developer Bob Jolly and others formed a political action committee called the Citizens for New Leadership. CNL then contibuted $8,000 each to the campaigns of candidates who pledged to make Asheville more “friendly” to developers. The CNL investments paid off well recently, when the City Council voted to approve plans for the same Wal-Mart that sank a year and a half ago. “This is an administrative decision,” one Council member disclaimed, “rather than a political one.” Mayor Charles Worley, and three other City Councilors all received handsome contributions from the developer’s fund — with equally handsome results. “Their Wal-Mart votes were certainly predictable” said the Xpress. “In essence, their votes were a return on an investment.” During the hearing on July 23rd, residents tried to raise a number of flaws with the current Wal-Mart plan, but the Xpress said the Mayor tightly controlled what testimony could be presented. For example, evidence that the project’s access road was too narrow to meet the city’s design standards was not allowed into the record. Opponents say the Council hearing process was loaded with procedural errors, and the likelihood that this case will end up in court is about as certain as the political contributions that helped smooth away these problems in the first place. A court challenge could drag this process out at least another year — reducing Wal-Mart’s hopes of a quick occupancy to ashes.
For other inspiring stories about the use of political/developer contributions to make projects succeed, search this data base by “contributions” or “campaign”. See also the stories about the Wal-Mart in New Orleans for a spicy rendering of developer pay-offs.