If a Wal-Mart supercenter gets a home in West Asheville, North Carolina, dozens of local families will lose theirs. The following story was sent to Sprawl-Busters by Jessica Luna: “Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. is planning to build a Supercenter adjacent to the Lowe’s on Smoky Park Highway in West Asheville. Though the 27.5 acres have not yet been purchased, Wal-Mart’s developers first submitted a building plan on October 28, 2005, and the City of Asheville’s planning and Zoning Commission will make a recommendation to city council on February 4 as to whether or not the appropriate areas should be rezoned for big box retail stores. The Supercenter would displace 54 families from the affordable income mobile homes located in Monticello Mobile Home Park, which is in the back of the area suggested for the 180,000 square foot Supercenter and additional retail space. The proposed site would have 842 parking spots, a number which the team noted was actually fewer than the usual number of 920 for a store of that size. The proposed Supercenter is seven miles from the 220,000 square foot East Asheville Supercenter that was constructed on the Sayles Bleachery Property and opened in January 2005, and three miles from the Sam’s Club on Patton Avenue. Wal-Mart also plans to build a store on Airport Road in Asheville. On December 19, approximately 60 concerned citizens attended an Input Meeting hosted by the developers of the West Asheville Wal-Mart. The two main developers are engineering company Freeland and Kauffman, Inc of Greenville, SC and Scott and Goble Architects of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Traffic consultants, an attorney, and one direct employee of Wal-Mart, engineer Randy Brown, were also present. “Wal-Mart truly wants to be a part of this community,” engineer Alan Johnson said to begin the meeting, which was held to answer the public’s questions about traffic concerns, sidewalk concerns, and landscaping of the project. “We are not here to debate or discuss Wal-Mart’s policies and practices,” said Johnson. “They just want to talk about soft stuff,” said one crowd member in the back, loudly. One of the major concerns raised by those in attendance was the future of Monticello Mobile Home Park’s possibly evicted residents, many of whom are elderly and/or Hispanic. Since many of the trailers in the affordable-housing trailer park are older than five years, city laws forbid their removal. Residents of the park in attendance at the meeting complained that the signs Wal-Mart posted were only in English, and many of the park’s inhabitants could not speak English. Concerns were also raised as to whether the landlord would comply with reimbursement demands. Earlier that same day, the City of Asheville’s Technical Review Committee recommended approval for the construction of the Wal-Mart and additional space for retailers. On January 4, Asheville City’s Planning and Zoning Commission met on the issue. Shannon Tuch, Planning Coordinator for the development, explained that the seven areas to be sold to Wal-Mart were four plots zoned Highway Business and three zoned RS4, or residential. The purpose of the Planning and Zoning Commission is to designate and approve zoning changes. Wal-Mart seeks a conditional use permit, or a rezoning of these areas to Highway Business Conditional Zoning. The owners of the property are JDN Development Company, Asheville Property Management, and three husband and wife couples. Asheville School was mentioned once in the meeting: Tuch said that AS was not included in the staff report but that it was “probably worth mentioning that the school is zoned institutional right across the street from the Supercenter.” She stated that the TRC’s most significant recommended improvement was of traffic intersections surrounding the Wal-Mart site. Louisiana Avenue, New Leicester Highway, and Sand Hill Road in West Asheville were found to be operating at poor levels and “without improvements, the new development would exacerbate these problems.” As the TRC reviewed information, “it became increasingly apparent that not enough time was available to answer questions raised by staff and others.” She recommended that both staff and the developers be given time to work out concerns, “and then return to the February 1 hearing … .and at that time propose a formal recommendation to Council,” The Planning and Zoning Commissioners voted unanimously to extend the matter and hold a public hearing on February 1. The concerns and possible solutions recommended by the TRC’s report included green roofs to minimize appearance, semi-opaque skylights, alternative building form or parking layout, relocation assistance for those displaced, and limited hours of loading for the delivery trucks so that nearby residents would not be disturbed at all hours of the night After a brief presentation from Wal-Mart attorney representative Ashley Story, who said his team had “very healthy responses to all of the concerns mentioned,” the public was then given 40 minutes to input their concerns. Most strayed from suggesting more items for consideration on the list and instead delivered their own opinions about Wal-Mart’s practices. “What we need is industry… we don’t need another Wal-Mart,” said citizen Paul English. One member of the mobile home park spoke and said it would take her at least $1,500 to move, which was not an amount of money she was predisposed to spend. Hazel Fugue said of the residents of the park, “they’re very poor, they are fighting for their needs, and they often do not get heard.” Joe Colt, who lives on Asheville School Road, asked the P&Z Commission to consider the difference in wages of Wal-Mart compared to other businesses that could be built on the same area.”
At the public hearing on this huge supercenter, many residents complained that these big stores were destroying the small businesses in North Carolina towns. A Wal-Mart representative responded that their economic concerns were based on “misinformation,” and he asked, “If towns are drying up, who’s shopping at our stores?” For other examples of how big box retailers have displaced low-income families living in mobile home parks — and how some of them have fought back — search Newsflash by “mobile park”. For more background on this developer’s controversial projects, search by “JDN”.