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Wednesday, 26 July 2006 00:00

Land-use plan on the rocks: Big box stores angle for immunity

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Developers of a proposed big box complex in Waynesville are seeking several exemptions from the town’s land-use plan. Waynesville has won several state and national awards for its progressive land-use plan, aimed at preserving the unique small town character.

But Cedarwood Development, a national big box retail developer, says the plan is too strict. Their requests run the gamut from sign height to building design. Town planners have proposed compromises in some areas, described in the chart below. A preliminary site plan is shown on the facing page.


Developer wants
Signs: A 75-foot sign along the bypass and two 35-foot signs at the entrances (see 8 in the diagram.)

Land-use plan says
Free-standing signs are limited to four-feet high and 32-square-feet. Signs on poles are not allowed but must be “monument” style signs that sit on the ground.

Town compromise
A definite “no” to the 75-foot sign along the by-pass. Allow a 25-foot tall sign at each entrance with decorative supporting structures. Signs can be 300 square feet and must accommodate the names of each business in the complex.

The rest of the story
Signs 25-feet tall aren’t allowed anywhere in town. Even the commercial-heavy Russ Avenue has a sign limit of six feet. Existing signs are exempt, but as businesses redevelop, they must lower their signs. McDonald’s is among those slated to lower its sign in conjunction with a proposed new building.


Developer wants
Parking design: A parking lot in front of the buildings instead of to the rear or side.

Land-use plan says
Buildings should be positioned close to the street with parking to the side and rear. This creates a uniform street wall of building facades. The goal: eliminate the gigantic sea of asphalt that dominates the landscape in most commercial corridors.

Town compromise
Allow a large central parking lot in front of Home Depot and Super Wal-Mart and to the front of Staples. However, future buildings on outlying lots (marked with a 5 on the diagram) must have facades facing either South Main Street or Hyatt Creek Road with parking to the rear.

The rest of the story
Few are arguing about this exemption. Underground contaminants from the old Dayco rubber factory are still on the site. The developers can’t build on the contaminated area, which is roughly located under the middle of the Super Wal-Mart parking lot shown in the diagram, leaving few options for how the buildings can be positioned on the site.


Developer wants
Building facades: An exemption from all architectural standards, including attractive building facades, standards that require windows and a pedestrian-scale building.

Land-use plan says
Long, blank walls are out. Known as “pedestrian articulation,” a facade must have some form of architectural detailing every four feet, such as a column, a change in the building material or a change in building relief. Changing paint colors doesn’t count. It has to have texture and depth, providing at least a two-inch variation in the building’s plane. Building facades must have windows, too.

Town compromise
For Home Depot and Super Wal-Mart, eliminate “pedestrian articulation” and require “compatible, high-quality design” using trees to mask any long blank walls. For buildings closest to south Main Street (see 5 in the diagram), downgrade from “pedestrian articulation” to “highway articulation,” which allows some long blank walls, but not for the full length of the building. Another option is “automobile articulation,” which requires architectural detail every 20 feet — in between “pedestrian” and “highway.”

The rest of the story
Simply requiring “high-quality design” is vague and subjective but not necessarily bad. The town appearance committee and planning board will have leverage in determining what is and isn’t “high-quality design.” For example, cinderblock buildings are allowed under the current land use plan — and that’s exactly what Home Depot is proposing. The town could relax pedestrian articulation but rule out cinderblock as a building material under the subjective definition of “high quality design.”


Developer wants
Entrances and access road: An exemption from street design standards, like trees and sidewalks, along the entry roads and the road that loops the parking lot (see 6 in diagram.)

Land-use plan says
Streets must be lined with sidewalks and street trees on both sides.

Town compromise
The entry roads should have sidewalks and street trees on both sides until reaching the parking lot. The road looping the parking lot does not need sidewalks but does need trees on both sides spaced every 40 feet on average.

The rest of the story
Under the land-use plan, parking goes in back and buildings face public streets, which are lined with sidewalks and street trees. But an exception will likely be granted here to allow parking in front because of contamination. That means the buildings will face the loop road, which some argue should be treated as a de facto “street” in terms of sidewalk standards.


Developer wants
Parking lot walkways: No exemption officially being sought. A pedestrian walkway is provided every four or five rows of parking (see 7 in diagram).

Land-use plan says
Parking lots must accommodate pedestrians with separate walkways throughout the parking lot. Pedestrian pathways must be at least five feet wide and clearly delineated by using different paving materials or painting stripes.

Town compromise
While developers have provided some pedestrian walkways in the parking lot (see 7), town planners say it is not adequate and intend to require more. There aren’t enough sidewalks leading through the parking lot, nor enough crosswalks. Getting from Super Wal-Mart to one of the outlying parcels (see 5’s in diagram) should be possible on foot rather than having to drive across the parking lot.

The rest of the story
The land-use plan is a bit weak when it comes to spelling out pedestrian walkways within parking lots, putting the onus on town planners to define whether pedestrians have been adequately accommodated. According to Town Planner Paul Benson, “we will be very critical of their internal pedestrian networks,” he said.


Developer wants
Parking lot landscaping: No exemption sought on tree spacing, but an exemption on the size of tree plantings from a landscaped island 8-feet wide to only 5-feet wide.

Land-use plan says
No parking space can be further than 30 feet from a tree. Planting islands must be at least eight feet wide.

Town compromise
Allow planting islands to be downsized to five-feet wide.

The rest of the story
Parking lot trees generally survive better in larger landscaped islands than smaller ones. It takes up parking spaces, however. As drawn, Super Wal-Mart has more than 600 parking spaces, and Home Depot more than 400.


Developer wants
Streetscaping: No exemptions being sought.

Land-use plan says
Developers must build a sidewalk along public streets and plant trees every 50 feet the length of their property.

Town compromise
None. The developers will have to build a sidewalk lined with trees along South Main and Hyatt Creek the length of their property.

The rest of the story
The developers are paying to widen Hyatt Creek to five lanes (see 9 in diagram.) The sidewalks and street trees will only be a fraction of the cost.


Developer wants
Greenway: Negotiations over a public greenway along Richland Creek are ongoing

Land-use plan says
There is no requirement that developers make accommodations for greenways. A countywide long-range greenway plan, however, calls for a greenway along Richland Creek all the way through town to Lake Junaluska.

Town compromise
A greenway isn’t required, but it sure would be nice. If the town gets assurance the developers will agree to a greenway, they could be more flexible on other some of the developer’s other requests.

The rest of the story
The developers could get a tax write-off by donating a greenway easement along the creek. They can’t build that close to the creek anyway due to state required buffers along Richland Creek, which is a designated trout stream.

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