Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Wal-Mart Forum

Last night, the development team for the proposed west end Wal-Mart Super Center held a public forum at the West Asheville Community Center to share their plans for the project and field questions and concerns and take any other input on their large development initiative that the community might want to provide.

One Leftists in the crowd rudely interrupted the opening presentation by insisting that he be able to begin the question-and-answer period on his own timetable rather than allowing the speakers to finish the overview.

The question period having now begun, other angry voices piped in to express their own personal resentment regarding general issues related to Wal-Mart and its operations. This was not the intent of the forum and I took the opportunity myself to shout down these interruptions and point out that this was not an activist session.

Shortly afterwards the most vocal Leftists walked out and the civil portion of the meeting got underway. There were still some passionate questioners and some hostility sprinkled throughout the rest of the meeting, but by-and-large genuine concerns were being raised about noise, light, traffic and housing displacement. These concerns were all addressed by the development team, which included a Wal-Mart attorney for the project.

It appeared that many in the audience did not understand the process of zoning, regulation and city government in general and I can certainly sympathize with that. Catching that tiger can require a certain stamina. But it seemed that the disgruntled minority simply thought that they could disregard the systematic process that brought us to this point and show up at one meeting, express a few tight little anti-capitalist bromides, sign a petition or two and then this would all go away.

And while all this confusion and cross-talk proceeded, we actually had a member of City Council sitting quietly in the audience with us through the entire meeting: Bryan Freeborn. Mr. Freeborn had nothing to say on any subject but instead listened attentively while citizens discussed buffers, tree-planting, zoning, business development, net job loss, the morality of the marketplace, and a host of other issues; many of which the developers were not there to discuss but which would be more proper to bring to planning boards and City Council.

Finally, one last lonely Leftist (sitting next to Freeborn, by the way) spoke up saying, "I don't think we need another Wal-Mart. I won't be shopping there and no one I know will be shopping there."

In response, I raised my hand and said, "I love Wal-Mart and I love shopping there every day." This elicited a smattering of laughter and some goony looks from the crowd. Then the developers decided to wrap the meeting on that positive note and we adjourned for the evening.

Afterwards, Leslee Kulba and I compared notes and agreed that Asheville has a long way to go in understanding basic economics, the law of supply and demand, and that, contrary to one questioners complaint that the voice of the people was not being heard, the real voice of the people could be found in the poster-sized architectural renderings and photos of the new proposed Wal-Mart destined to rise up on the west end and satisfy a felt need that they would only be happy to fill.