Divided Franklin board OKs Super Wal-Mart
By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer
With the announcement of plans to bring a new Wal-Mart Supercenter to Franklin, some say town aldermen have given away their only real bargaining chip that would aid negotiations to make the Big Box store more visually appealing — water and sewer rights.
The new Wal-Mart is to be located in the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction — a special area outside town limits that is subject to zoning laws but not town taxes — near the new Macon County library and Southwestern Community College sites.
Although rumors of a new Wal-Mart have circulated for years, Dec. 2 was the first time a representative from the company appeared before town board members with a request to hook on to the town’s water and sewer system. And in a 4 to 2 vote, aldermen gave the company exactly what it wanted.
Aldermen voting for the measure — Billy Mashburn, who made the motion for approval, Jerry Evans, who seconded the motion, Verlin Curtis and Charles Roper — cited a desire not to impede development.
“Withholding it could only have caused a little dissension,” Curtis said. “We don’t have any ordinances in place to compel them to build to any sort of standards. It seems like an injustice to hold them to standards that we don’t have.”
However, board members Carolyn “Sissy” Pattillo and Bob Scott said that the town should have at least waited long enough to see the company’s plans before handing over such a valuable resource.
“My vote was not against Wal-Mart,” Scott said. “My vote was ‘Hey, we’ve only known about this for a few hours.’”
Scott said there are things the town needs to encourage the company to do in developing its store plans such as creating pervious surfaces so that rainwater has somewhere to go. Giant asphalt slab parking lots like are found at so many Big Box stores only create runoff problems, as water cannot drain into the soil and instead often overtaxes sewer and storm drain systems with water tainted by motor oils and other chemical residue.
“What disturbs me is just what kind of town and county are we going to be leaving for future generations if we keep rubber stamping every one of these requests without getting something in return,” Scott said.
Franklin, unlike Waynesville, does not have anything on the books requiring a more sensitive approach to development. Waynesville’s three-year-old land-use plan was intended to protect the town’s unique mountain character and guard against cookie cutter big box developments. The developers of a proposed Super Wal-Mart complex to be located at the old Dayco site on the west side of Waynesville asked for exemptions to the some of the land-use plans’ tougher standards. But town aldermen, the town planning board and town community appearance commission held their own in a series of meetings with developers saying that if they wanted something, they needed to give something.
The developers were seeking exemptions to sign height, architecture standards and planting trees along the building façade. Realizing they needed to satisfy the town’s demand for an attractive building façade if they wanted the other exemptions, their architects got to work on a design.
The design Wal-Mart’s architects came back with has a brick façade and a stacked stone entryway. Long blank walls are broken up with stacked stone columns and windows. The entrances to the garden center, main store and grocery store protrude, creating depth rather than a solid plane for the 500-foot-length of the building facade. The facade also features a couple of pitched roofs with wooden timbers over each entrance.
Upon seeing the design, the town planning board unanimously approved the other exemptions the developer was seeking from the land-use plan.
Curtis said he doesn’t think that going ahead and allowing the new Super Wal-Mart to hook on to the town’s water and sewer will have an adverse affect on the town’s ability to negotiate for a more attractive store. Waynesville alderman Gavin Brown agreed that might be true. While Waynesville’s Super Wal-Mart was somewhat contentious, it doesn’t always have to be that way.
“The Big Boxes have learned that it’s easier to swim downstream than upstream,” Brown said.
The company will present its plans for development to the town in February, Curtis said.
Franklin is close to adopting a new policy called Principals of Growth, developed with citizen input to help the town rework its zoning laws. Most appearance requirements are basic, relating to greenspace and walkability, Curtis said. The Principals don’t deal with building design except in the town’s historic areas. A public hearing regarding the Principals is scheduled for Jan. 8.
Franklin aldermen don’t know what’s going to happen to the existing Wal-Mart, located in a shopping plaza on U.S. 441. The company does not own the building, but could continue to pay rent just to keep competitors out or simply move out and leave the retail space empty. Often when such “anchor” stores relocate, the other businesses in the plazas suffer.
Brown said that during Waynesville’s negotiations with the developers planning the new Super Wal-Mart complex, which also is slated to include a Home Depot and a Staples, he learned that another company already was interested in the old Wal-Mart site. The information helped Brown in knowing that the community as a whole would not end up with a desolate strip mall on its hands.