Kaid Benfield Archive


That sound you just heard was environmental interests bumping heads, or the tale of the Waynesville Best Buy parking lot

Kaid Benfield

Posted June 2, 2008 at 12:54PM

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Waynesville, North Carolina is a sleepy southern town about 30 miles or so from where I grew up.  It's where I got my first traffic ticket, among other things.

Waynesville (by: joelmutate, creative commons license)You know smart growth is catching on when a place like Waynesville (population 10,000) is trying to do the right thing.  They have a zoning ordinance requiring that commercial enterprises place their parking lots behind rather than in front of their buildings, to create a more walkable streetscape.  This not only creates a more cohesive, traditional community character; it also makes it easier for a retail customer of one store to walk to a second store on the same trip, or to walk from the doctor's office to the church, or whatever.  Each walking trip saves a driving trip and, over time, they add up.

This is not, of course, how big-box stores usually do things, which is why a place like Waynesville needs an ordinance to require them to.  To his credit, Waynesville mayor Gavin Brown insisted on compliance when the big retailer Best Buy came to town.  As long as he could.

The problem, it turns out, was that the part of the lot close to the street was a contaminated brownfield.  Best Buy's developer could afford the level of remediation required to put a parking lot on that part of the site, but it couldn't afford the higher level required if the site was going to be occupied by a structure with people working in it all day.   So the city eventually granted a waiver.

a traditional Best Buy in Cleveland (by: Ron Dauphin, creative commons license)Here's part of what the story in the local paper, the Smoky Mountain News, said about the issue:

"What Brown didn’t know then, though, was that Cedarwood had identified a hotspot of tolulene deposits on the Best Buy parcel, left over from the days when the site was the Dayco rubber parts factory. Conforming to the land-use standards would mean the main structure — rather than the parking lot — would sit on top of the tolulene. In that case, major environmental mitigation efforts would have to be taken, doubling the cost of construction and making it too prohibitive for Best Buy to come to Waynesville . . .

"A letter from Best Buy to the town board stated that the project would be in 'serious jeopardy' if the development was made to comply with the town’s land-use plan. Losing it wouldn’t be worth it, Brown says. The company will employ about 65 people with mid-level jobs and rake in up to $25 million in sales."

You can read the whole story here

I don't really blame the town for caving in.  For a place the size of Waynesville, attracting a business to the central shopping area is still a good thing, even if the design leaves something to be desired.  It's better for the environment to have the store located on a redevelopment site within the town's jurisdictional limits - a lot better - than plopped down on prime farmland outside of town.  But it's a shame they couldn't do it right.