Land use plan ‘truthometer’: What really happened to all those new businesses that were coming to Waynesville?Written by Becky Johnson
Did Waynesville run off a Cracker Barrel? What about Chick-fil-A? Challengers running in next week’s town election say Waynesville’s appearance standards for new commercial business are deterring development.
A political action committee calling itself the Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens are publicizing the claims, dedicating a web site to the cause and taking out newspaper ads.
The Smoky Mountain News attempted to chase down the facts behind the group’s claims and determine if Waynesville residents are being unjustly deprived of waffle fries and home-style biscuits.
The rumor: Cracker Barrel was going to come to Hazelwood near exit 100 but backed out because it couldn’t erect a super tall sign on a pole visible from the highway.
Critics say: “There was a big squabble over the height of the sign between the Cracker Barrel executives and the town of Waynesville,” according to Kaye Talman, organizer behind Waynesville-Haywood Concerned Citizens.
Talman said she got her information from the property owner trying to sell to Cracker Barrel, Terry Ramey. Ramey said he never talked to Cracker Barrel himself.
“I am just going by what the Realtor told me, which is they couldn’t buy it because they couldn’t put their sign up. Somehow or other they talked to the town because that’s the reason. They won’t go nowhere where you can’t see their sign,” Ramey said.
Realtor weighs in: The Realtor for the property, Dan Womack, tried to market the site to Cracker Barrel, but Cracker Barrel said the town’s population wasn’t big enough to come here.
“They said the demographics at this point in time weren’t here, population and what all. Of course, Cracker Barrel likes their sign. They never came out and said that was an issue, but I’m sure that would have come up. But, we didn’t get that far. The conversation was that the demographics did not fit their business plan,” Womack said.
Town says: Cracker Barrel has never contacted the town.
“I have not received any specific proposal or nonspecific proposal from anyone affiliated with Cracker Barrel,” said Town Planner Paul Benson.
While the town’s sign restrictions would not allow the giant sign typically erected by Cracker Barrel, if it actually wanted to come to Waynesville, it would have approached the town to ask for an exemption.
“Waynesville would not be a company the size of Cracker Barrel’s first rodeo. They would call us up and say, ‘Hey look, we want to come to town and is there anything we can do about the sign height,’” said Byron Hickox, town zoning administrator.
The rumor: Annie’s Bakery, an organic and natural bakery based in Sylva, was looking for somewhere to relocate its burgeoning wholesale product line. A site in Waynesville was in the running, but development regulations killed the deal and Annie’s went to Asheville instead.
Critics say: Kaye Talman said she heard about Annie’s from the property owner who was trying to sell his vacant building to the company. But, it was going to cost $175,000 to bring the building into compliance with the town’s development standards, and it was cost-prohibitive.
Annie’s says: Joe Ritota, the owner of Annie’s Bakery, said he chose Asheville to locate his growing wholesale line because it is closer to the distributors that carry his products, like Ingles. Also, all the property he looked at in Waynesville was too expensive.
“Regardless of the land use plan, the building owners we had spoken to were asking way too much money for their cost per square foot. It was so much more competitive in Asheville,” Ritota said.
Plus, the condition of the buildings was poor and would have required a substantial investment to make the space useable.
Town says: “We just had very preliminary conversations with them. The way we left it with them was we would work with them to make it happen,” Town Planner Paul Benson said.
“It wasn’t like they said, ‘We have to do it like this’ and we said, ‘No, you can’t do it that way,’ so they left. We discussed alternatives with how they might comply with the ordinance.”
The rumor: Chick-fil-A wanted to come to an unspecified location in Waynesville, but some aspect of the town’s ordinance was prohibitive.
Critics say: “Chick-fil-A has attempted several times. I wouldn’t speculate on the circumstances, but I do know the town of Waynesville blocked it,” said Kaye Talman.
Town says: Chick-fil-A has never approached the town. It’s unlikely they wrote off Waynesville based on the ordinance without first broaching the town.
“I would say in general if a business was serious about being here and wanted to make a positive contribution to the community they would take the trouble to talk to the town about their project. We always work with businesses to make their development happen,” Town Planner Paul Benson said.
Walgreens drug store
The rumor: Walgreens wanted to build on South Main near the new Super Walmart, but the town’s required parking lot configuration was a deal killer.
Critics say: The town required new businesses to put their parking lots to the side or rear of the building instead of in front. Walgreens wanted its parking lot in front and wouldn’t come because of that.
Town says: This is true. Walgreens tried to get an exemption for its parking lot, but the town denied the request.
“They just felt like they had to have that,” Benson said. But, that wasn’t all.
“It is hard to say if that is the biggest issue because they also had an issue with some of the design standards,” Benson said.
This is the only business Benson knows of in eight years that didn’t come here because of the town’s ordinance.
Page count of the land-use plan
The rumor: Waynesville’s land-use plan was 1,600 pages long. After a year-long review, it was modified and is now 800 pages.
Critics say: “They went from 1,600 pages, which is over three reams of paper, to 800,” said Kaye Talman.
Town says: “The former ordinance was 576 pages. The revised one is 258. I have no idea where the 1,600 number came from,” said Paul Benson, town planner.