By Tim Peck
March 8, 2006
The final Planning & Zoning Commission hearing on the rezoning of a few parcels in west Asheville for a new Wal-Mart Super Center was held on March 1st.
The usual suspects were present at the meeting to cheer and clap from the peanut gallery after every button-wearing naysayer made their public comment.
But to no avail. Rezoning favoring Wal-Mart passed 6 to 1, Chairman Tom Byers dissenting.
Byers felt that disapproval of the rezoning might possibly save the trailer park residents. This in spite of the fact that the property manager stated that the owner already had another bid with no provision to give the displaced residents any moving money; unlike Wal-Mart's offer of $4,000.
That $4,000 is now $7,500 each as a condition set by the commission in lieu of Wal-Mart laying unnecessary sidewalk 3/4 of a mile away to connect up with existing sidewalk. In their earlier presentation, Wal-Mart said that the sidewalk was unacceptable in the first place.
The real comedy occurred during public comment. The commission chair stated that the three-minute rule would be strictly enforced and the commissioners asked that comment be restricted to issues of land planning.
The crowd was a mix of anti-development types and more than a few Hispanics who stand to lose their housing when the property owner sells to Wal-Mart, or whomever. About 20 or more people came to the podium to speak and 2 of them addressed land planning issues. Several of them could speak English.
Most made faulty arguments about depressed wages, detrimental community impact, and the low esteem in which the company is held in the opinion of leftists. Others addressed the problem of the displacement of trailer park residents; seemingly blaming Wal-Mart for their dilemma. It should be noted that trailer parks are not allowed in the city per zoning ordinance. These trailers were ‘grandfathered’ in with no other guarantees or provisions for relocation.
One fellow looked like he had finally found that lost suit in the bottom drawer—and it still fit. Most others did not really bother to get dressed for the occasion. One by one, bearded and t-shirt clad, audience members strolled forward to denounce the project. Not one single person spoke in favor of the project.
About 5 non-English-speaking commentators addressed the commission; all needing a translator standing by. One of them brought a tape recording of a relative’s complaints and played into the microphone while a translator interpreted the recorded comments snippet-by-snippet. Several of our language-impaired Latinos brothers and sisters recited written statements that were clearly penned for them by English-savvy local activists. Several Spanish-only speakers asked that more information be supplied to them in Spanish because "none of us can speak English." Since legal immigration requires a working knowledge of English, this is an explicit admission by this spokesperson that she and her party are not in this country according to the law. I kept looking around for some police officers to help escort plaintiffs to a country where they might be considered legal citizens.
Alan Ditmore (who received 21,318 votes) argued against the project by pointing out that Wal-Mart refuses to dispense emergency contraception and because of this he has to wait behind school busses. This elicited a few giggles from the normally stoic commissioners. “You are directly creating people,” he said to the commission. A barely perceptible wave of laughter shimmered through the audience.
The stalwart anti-Wal-Mart activist Grant Millen was nowhere to be found. He would not have enjoyed himself.
Another demure and slinky female in her early 20's objected to the rezoning because she felt that the cars going in and out of Wal-Mart property would create excessive automobile emissions. With this statement, she perhaps unintentionally makes an argument in favor of the project: If her contention is true— that the nearby surface streets may become overwhelmed with pollution—this should imply that the new Wal-Mart in West Asheville will be very, very popular. Is that what she meant to say? I have to think so.