Three challengers in the Waynesville town election have staked out clear positions against the town’s commercial development standards. They say they would institute a review of the town’s ordinances if elected and want to loosen the standards.
Current town leaders running for re-election believe the standards protect the unique character of the town.
Others say the standards aren’t perfect but are satisfied that an overhaul of the standards this past year — a process driven by a town-appointed committee of mostly business leaders — addressed the majority of concerns and the ordinances are fine for now.
Mayor Gavin Brown
Brown doesn’t buy claims that Waynesville’s development standards have killed plans by chain stores to come here.
“I would like to see a statement signed by the development companies saying the land design standards are the reason they didn’t come here,” Brown said.
Waynesville’s track record on attracting new businesses, even chain stores, isn’t too shabby, he said.
Over the past four years, the town has seen a Super Walmart, Best Buy, Staples and two new Verizon Wireless stores. Ingle’s has been approved for a major expansion, including a gas station. A new Belks department store, PetSmart and Michael’s craft store have broken ground. Even a manufacturing industry, HVO, met the town’s standards when undergoing a major expansion of its plant.
Brown said efforts to recruit new business are more likely to run afoul over the town’s demographics. Its population, at least on paper, doesn’t look big enough to support the stores, as “the census data doesn’t reflect second homes.”
Alderman Leroy Roberson
Roberson thinks it is important to preserve Waynesville’s character, support small business and protect the charm of its neighborhoods. The town’s land-use plan does that by upholding appearance standards for new commercial development, he said.
The town is one of the most desirable places in the region to live thanks to its progressive vision, and that in turn makes businesses want to locate here, he said, pointing to several chain stores that have done just that.
“You don’t have these large box stores coming to Waynesville because it is a depressed area. They see it as a vibrant area,” Roberson said.
Roberson said smart businesses recognize the value in appearance.
“Why doesn’t Cracker Barrel just put up a tin-sided building with metal posts? Why do they put rocking chairs out there? Because it looks attractive,” Roberson said.
Roberson said his passion lies with helping the local businesses, pointing to new restaurants like Frog’s Leap, Bourbon Barrel and Tipping Point.
“Cracker Barrel is not my main concern. We are getting lots of good restaurants without Cracker Barrel,” Roberson said. “I want to create a climate that provides for small business. The big chains can take care of themselves. They have millions of dollars they can invest.”
Roberson said it is appropriate to ask chain stores to respect the towns they come in to.
“They should at least try to become a part of the community, in terms of ‘OK, this is the appearance you have, how can I fit into this?’ Not ‘This is the way we do it everywhere else and if you don’t like, we are not coming,’” Roberson said.
Roberson said the revised land-use plan is not as rigid as it was and can accommodate specific issues a business might have. “Flexibility is built in without throwing out everything with the bathwater,” Roberson said.
Alderman Wells Greeley
Greeley said the town responded to complaints from development interests that the town’s standards were too strict. The town appointed a committee comprised mostly of business leaders who spent a year revising the standards. Town leaders agreed to most of the recommended changes, loosening them in several areas.
“Now that we have reviewed those, I feel very comfortable; we are poised to really promote business and encourage business,” Greeley said. “This board has not been business unfriendly.”
As for the Cracker Barrel claims?
“I would need to see more evidence,” Greeley said.
Middle of the road
Mary Ann Enloe, challenger
Enloe said Waynesville has lovely neighborhoods that should be protected.
“We don’t need to lose sight of our neighborhoods because we have quite a few really nice ones around in town. By the same token, I am going to tell you what I am hearing everywhere I go, this comes up. People want new businesses here. They just do,” Enloe said.
Enloe said she does not have enough facts to wade into the fray over Cracker Barrel. Enloe said the town should put the facts out there.
“The people I talk to want to know why. They want to know why these corporate entities walked away,” she said.
Enloe said she doesn’t know if the claims are legitimate. If they aren’t, the town “should let folks know that,” Enloe said.
Enloe agrees with revisions made to the ordinance this year and does not see the need to make more changes to it right now. She does believe it should be periodically reviewed at least every five years going forward.
“We have to be business friendly in an appropriate way,” Enloe said.
Alderman Gary Caldwell
Caldwell has had one primary bone to pick with the commercial development standards: where should the parking lots go.
The town’s development standards initially required parking lots to go on the side or rear of the building. That way, building façades and landscaping would define the streetscape rather than parking lot scenes. But, Caldwell said businesses should be allowed to put parking lots in front of their buildings. He supports a change to the ordinance allowing a limited number of parking spaces in front of the building.
“Now we have kind of come to a mutual agreement where we have allowed a row of parking in front,” Caldwell said. “I feel like we have come to a good compromise all the way around.”
Although he personally voted to allow even more parking in front, he can live with it and doesn’t see the need to undergo another revision process right now.
Standards too tough
Freeman believes the town’s development standards are too strict, and the ordinance wasn’t loosened enough in the recent review process.
“There was some progress made but in my opinion not enough,” Freeman said. “That’s why I think it is a priority to start that review process again.”
Freeman said the ordinance puts “undue burdens” on new commercial developments and should be made more “pro-business.”
She thinks new businesses should have to plant some trees in their parking lot but not as many as the town calls for now. She doesn’t think new commercial developments should have to bear the expense of building sidewalks.
“We need to be a pedestrian community but not at the expense of our small business owners,” Freeman said.
Freeman also doesn’t think chain stores should have to alter their templates to fit the town’s appearance guidelines.
“I truly believe these businesses should be able to submit plans depending on what is their brand. They have their own look. It is a corporate thing,” Freeman said. “They should be able to submit those.”
Sam Edwards, challenger
Edwards is a leading critic of the development standards and accused the town of “chasing businesses off.”
“This is one of the principle things that are a deterrent to businesses opening up here,” Edwards said.
Edwards said there are numerous examples. He cited Cracker Barrel as the poster child. He said Cracker Barrel “canceled the decision to come” after the town wouldn’t allow its tall highway sign. He also cited Annie’s Bakery and Walgreen’s.
Edwards said he had no first hand knowledge nor details of the alleged deals that fell through. He said he got his information from the Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens Group.
Edwards said market forces, not the government, should dictate the appearance of new buildings.
“That is a decision they would have to make corporately,” Edwards said.
Hugh Phillips, mayoral candidate
Phillips said he heard that a Cracker Barrel had pulled out because they couldn’t put up a tall sign. He said he did not know specifics.
“I didn’t get all the details on it but it all boiled down to the land use ordinances,” Phillips said.
When asked for other examples, Phillips said “Chick-fil-A maybe.”
As for where it was allegedly going to go?
“I thought close to Walmart,” Phillips said.
Phillips said he wants to redo the town’s standards.
“We need to go over it page by page, line by line,” Phillips said.
The town actually appointed a committee of business leaders last year to do just that. The team met weekly for the better part of a year, went over every line of the ordinance and recommended dozens of changes to loosen the ordinance. The town board adopted all but one of the recommendations in the spring.
Phillips said he was only vaguely familiar that the town had undergone a review of the ordinance. He said he did not know that the town board had weakened the standards already.
“I heard a little bit about it. I don’t know what the results were. I knew they were going to do that, but I never heard what the results were,” Phillips said. “I didn’t know about it.”