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Waynesville adopts conditional zoning at Ingles’ request

Ingles is now one step closer to giving their Waynesville store a revamp, thanks to a decision taken by the town’s aldermen last week.

The board granted Ingles request for a conditional zoning district, which would allow the supermarket chain to go ahead with their redevelopment plans without any delays in the process.

Conditional zoning districts are slated to be part of the town’s updated land-use ordinances that will be open to public comment later this fall. Ingles, however, couldn’t wait that long, so they petitioned the board to make a decision now.

After meetings between town officials and Ingles representatives, the board seemed convinced that the grocery store wasn’t seeking to get in under the wire by pushing through a project before the updated ordinances are adopted.

Mayor Gavin Brown said that, initially, he’d harbored reservations.

“At first I had some reservations about what we were doing here,” Brown said. “At first I was a little suspect of having all that authority and all that power. The nice thing is that if we don’t like it, we don’t have to do it. It’s really our decision to make within the confines of the ordinance itself.”

Michael Egan, attorney for Ingles and also an expert on zoning, spoke on behalf of the store, assuring the aldermen that the request wasn’t frivolous.

“They didn’t just file this application out of a spirit of playfulness. It’s very important to them. It’s critical to them to get started as soon as they possibly can,” said Egan, who has helped Brevard and other local municipalities put together similar measures.

“It’s a terrific tool,” said Egan. “It’s probably the best tool that local governments now have.”

For the town, adopting conditional zoning will allow them to make exceptions to current zoning on a case-by-case, plat-by-plat basis.

“It’s very site-specific,” said Paul Benson, Waynesville’s planning director. “You can tailor it to an individual and so that makes it really a popular tool.”

It is also a powerful tool, giving the planning board and the board of aldermen the power to change and negotiate around current zoning regulations for specific businesses or individuals.

There are, said Benson, some restrictions, though.

“The most specific restriction is they can’t ask for a use that’s not allowed in the underlying zone,” Benson said, which does limit the amount of leeway that a board can offer.

For Ingles, the crux of the issue is timing. Under the current regulations, they couldn’t redevelop the site — which is in the Russ Avenue Town Center District — much beyond minor renovations without bumping up against the ordinance’s confines. Within those boundaries, developers said, it would be impossible for them to update, since the store lies on what Benson calls a “flagpole lot.” That makes parking in the back or side of the building — a stipulation for buildings in the district — difficult.

Ingles hasn’t come out with definitive plan for what it wants to do with the site, and Benson said the town won’t know for sure until their application arrives. That’s when the real negotiations over what will and won’t be allowed in the conditional zone — or even if they’ll be allowed one — will begin.

The possibility of expansion eastward into the adjoining storefront once occupied by Goody’s has been mentioned, as has the idea of a gas station, which is the formula Ingles has been following for its newer stores. At Tuesday’s meeting, store representatives pledged that the expansion would bring up to 60 new jobs to the community, in addition to temporary contracting jobs that the redevelopment would create.

Egan said that the major negotiating points of the new conditional use would likely be parking and landscaping, and said that they hope to have an application for conditional use filed with the city in time to make an appearance on the Dec. 20 planning board agenda.

“The engineer is working on those plans right now and we hope to have that application in by the end of the month,” said Egan.

The next step is for the town to evaluate the store’s application and start talks to work out exact terms. Benson said that, if the timing is right, that process could be well on its way by early next year.

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