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Wednesday, 09 August 2006 00:00

Appearance commission holds its own

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“You can do better.”

That was the message last week from Waynesville town leaders to developers of a Super Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Staples complex being considered in the former Dayco site in west Waynesville. The developers are seeking a slate of exemptions from the town’s land-use plan intended to preserve the town’s character.

The town’s chief complaints were about sparse landscaping in the propsed mega parking lot and an unattractive building façade. The developers met with the town board of aldermen, planning board and community appearance commission over two days last week.

“People driving down South Main Street, they don’t want to look across there and see a sea of asphalt,” Mayor Henry Foy told developers during a workshop with the town board of aldermen and planning board.

Alderwoman Libba Feichter said Waynesville is a special town. A cookie-cutter big box development doesn’t honor the town’s unique character.

“It begins to look like very other big box development in the world,” Feichter said.

Gary O’Nesti, the lead developer over the project, maintained his position that the town’s land-use plan does not accommodate big box developments.

“When the ordinance was developed, I don’t think it contemplated what we’re developing here,” O’Nesti said. “We’re convinced we can come up with a compromise. That’s why we’re here. We want to do this project. It’s an excellent project and we think it will be excellent for the community.”

The development will be located at the site of the former Dayco plant. O’Nesti works for Cedarwood Development, a national company that builds big box developments, many of them sporting Super Wal-Marts.

“We don’t apologize for the development we have,” O’Nesti told the town.

At the same time, developers indicated they could satisfy some of the town’s requests.

“Ultimately, we want you to say ‘That’s our Home Depot,’” O’Nesti said.

In a meeting with the community appearance commission, architects designing the Home Depot appeared receptive to suggestions for the building façade. Luis Quevedo, a local architect and member of the community appearance commission, asked the architects if they could incorporate native building materials such as stacked stone and timbers to reflect the unique mountain environment. The architects said “yes.”

Developers resisted demands to plant trees along the curb in front of the building or beef up the number of trees in the parking lot, however. More trees means less parking. O’Nesti said he has already cut parking to the bare minimum that retailers will accept. Architects for Home Depot, meanwhile, said trees planted in front of the building will get in the way of customers.

When Mayor Foy got his hands on a copy of the site plan prior to the meeting with developers, it was hard to comprehend just how big the development would look in real life. So he painstakingly counted each little parking place. Then he drove to the Wal-Mart near Lake Junaluska and counted all those spaces.

The final result? The parking lot at the new development will be bigger, Foy said.

“Look at all that grey,” Foy said, pointing to the parking lot on the site map with barely visible green polka dots. “Any landscaping that’s in there is lost.”

The issue of equity in applying the land-use plan came up briefly during the discussions — namely the fact that small entrepreneurs have had to invest money in landscaping and well-designed building facades.

“I’ve had a lot of calls from people in the past week saying any standard you hold a local business to, someone who is struggling to get by, we should certainly hold a major corporation to, for whom a few more dollars don’t have nearly the same impact,” said Patrick McDowell, member of the planning board and a Realtor.

O’Nesti disagreed that his development fell in the same category.

“We’re dealing with a different scenario than what was anticipated when the ordinance was written,” O’Nesti said.

Members of the community appearance commission agreed. A cookie-cutter big box development was not what the town anticipated. In fact, that’s one reason for writing the land-use plan in the first place: to avoid developments that look like that, according to Mib Medford, member of the appearance commission. Medford said the town’s requirements aren’t novel ideas.

“What we are asking for here, it’s been done before,” Medford said.

O’Nesti said some communities much larger than Waynesville have far fewer restrictions, and some have none at all.

 

Architecture, please

Along with landscaping, another big concern for Waynesville town leaders is architecture. Under the town’s land-use plan, buildings must follow pedestrian friendly design. Long, drab, blank walls seen on some big box stores are banned by the land-use plan. Instead, building facades must have some type of architectural design along with windows to create a more appealing tone for pedestrians.

At a meeting with the community appearance commission, O’Nesti questioned whether people will actually walk to these stores.

“Once you park your car, everybody is a pedestrian,” replied Byron Hickox, a town planner.

South Main Street could be just as pedestrian friendly as downtown if developed right, Alderman Gavin Brown said. Another Russ Avenue is not inevitable, nor is the traffic congestion witnessed at the existing Wal-Mart, whose nearby interchange is dubbed “malfunction junction.”

Brown said the decision should be guided by a vision for South Main Street 30 years from now.

“I want people walking on South Main Street,” Brown said.

The Dayco site is surrounded by residential neighborhoods, accounting for one of the town’s larger population centers. Brown said there is room for compromise on the architectural standards for the Super Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Staples — which sit toward the back of the lot on the far side of a massive parking lot.

A handful of smaller stores — such as restaurants or a bank — will abut South Main Street and Hyatt Creek Road at the perimeter of the lot. Brown said those buildings should meet the town’s standards for building facades and architecture.

“That’s what protects your view, blocks the view of that sea of asphalt,” Brown said.

New businesses along Russ Avenue — by far the town’s most concentrated commercial drag — are complying with architectural building facades and those on South Main Street should as well, Brown said.

“We’re looking again 30 years down the road,” added Marty Prevost, a planning board member.

 

Paving the way

The development will have a significant impact on numerous residential neighborhoods — from upscale Eagle’s Nest, which overlooks the development, to the blue-collar neighborhoods of Hazelwood.

Town leaders said the tone of the development will shape the future of South Main Street, and likely all of West Waynesville. Alderwoman Libba Feichter called the development the “lynch-pin of the whole corridor.”

“We would like to challenge you to come up with a plan that is innovative, resourceful and creative,” said Rex Feichter, chairman of the planning board.

Nick Nelson, who lives in one of several new subdivisions expanding in the area, was one of many residents who came to the meeting to hear about the plans. Nelson said the development will have a huge impact on his end of town.

When the Wal-Mart at Lake Junaluska was built, property values in nearby subdivisions went down considerably, according to Marty Prevost, a planning board member and Realtor.

“It absolutely killed Fox Fire Estates, a community looking at the backside of Wal-Mart,” Prevost said. “It was very hard to sell anything in there.”

Prevost said the building should be landscaped along the back, which is visible from numerous high-end developments on the hillside above town.

“That’s certainly something we’ll take into consideration,” O’Nesti said. The town’s land-use plan doesn’t call for landscaping behind buildings, but the town could require it anyway. The town will have to write a special permit for the big box development. In the process, the town can specify conditions the developer must meet.

For example, the developer wants an exemption on the size of tree islands from 8 feet wide to 5 feet wide. Patrick McDowell, planning board member, said the town could require more trees in exchange for allowing smaller tree islands.

Town leaders also questioned an exemption on sign height. The land-use plan caps new signs along South Main Street to four feet. Developers asked for a 75-foot sign at exit 98 along U.S. 23-74 and two 35-foot signs at each entrance to the development — one on South Main Street and one on Hyatt Creek Road. The 75-foot sign is a definite no-go, but Town Planner Paul Benson recommended a compromise of 25-foot signs at each entrance. The town board didn’t agree, however.

Brown questioned whether signs that size are really necessary. Super Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Staples will all have signs sporting their signature logo on their building façade.

“Folks, if you can’t tell that’s a Wal-Mart and a Home Depot in there, then you’re blind,” Brown said.

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