Nov 302006

Like the Titanic -- Waxhaw knows not whats beneath the waves

Charlotte Observer: Waxhaw planning board OKs Wal-Mart

…The seven-member advisory panel voted 4-3 Monday night to give a favorable recommendation to the town Board of Commissioners on the retailer’s conditional-use zoning permit.

Though each member voiced reservations about the proposed 190,000-square-foot retail store near the corner of N.C. 16 and Waxhaw Parkway, Planning Board members who voted “aye” said their authority as a board was limited to deciding whether a site plan conformed to the town’s unified development ordinance

The following excerpt is from Waxhaw Unified Development Ordinance (UDO):

14.5 Planning Board Review and Recommendation
Once the application has been accepted, the Planning Board shall review the Conditional Use application. The Planning Board may, in its review, suggest reasonable conditions to the location, nature, and extent of the proposed use and its relationship to surrounding properties, parking areas, driveways, pedestrian and vehicular circulation systems, screening and landscaping, timing of development, and any other conditions the Planning Board may find appropriate. Such conditions may include dedication of any rights-of-way or easements for streets, water, sewer, or other public utilities necessary to serve the proposed development.

It’s clear as ice that Waxhaw’s Planning Board has all the authority necessary to make a complete and thorough recommendation. Why they couched their approval with ‘reservations’ instead of concrete conditions or better yet, specifics to the UDO remains a mystery to me.

A Mystery

If you look at Waxhaw’s UDO and Table of Uses, you won’t find a listed ‘Use’ for a Big Box Store or anything really approximating a ‘everything under one roof’ type of store. In fact the applicable ‘Use’ has yet to be verbalized by Waxhaw’s Planning Board. So what is a Wal-Mart ‘Use’-wise?

At the first or second meeting, Wal-Mart representatives were calling themselves a ‘Home Center’, so I looked up how Waxhaw defines a ‘Home Center’.

Section 8-14: Home Center – (i.e., home improvement store) – An establishment which may sell various household goods, tools and building materials, durable household goods (e.g., refrigerators, lawn care machines, washing machines), electronic equipment, household animal supplies, nursery products, etc. Likely examples of such uses include “Lowe’s”, “Home Depot”, etc.

Pretty close, but do you buy groceries, McDonald’s Hamburgers, fill prescriptions and get family portraits at Home Depot?

Now Wal-Mart is calling itself a ‘Retail Center’, can they be anymore ambiguous?? The one-size fits all philosophy — works great with socks, but not with zoning.

Deep Kimchi

There needs to be a specific set of ordinances designed to address the impact of a very large retail outlet. Good, sensible zoning is one of the most important functions and responsibility of local government.

Waxhaw doesn’t have that kind of zoning in place today – plain and simple. Does this mean that they have to just make do with the closest zoning regulations they can bend to fit — no.

Waxhaw’s town council should not be stampeded into approving Wal-Mart out of fears of what Wal-Mart may do or not do.

Their first responsibility is to Waxhaw, anything else will really put the citizens, as Planning Board member Phillip Gregory said, in ‘deep kimchi’.

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  7 Responses to “Woe be to Waxhaw! Full Speed Ahead!”

  1. I’ll probably be dating myself but I remember putting pennies on the railroad tracks underneath waxhaw’s wooden bridge 30 years ago.

    Do I like Wal-mart? No. They sell imported goods made with chinese slave-labor wages, and 80% of their employees are so underpaid that they have to use government food stamp and medical welfare programs just to get by.

    The fact remains, however, that people like to shop there! Last year there was a great South Park episode where everyone in town protested against a new Wal-mart, yet at 4am everyone snuck into the store to do some shopping because they couldn’t resist the bargains. At the end of the episode the children finally reached the “heart” of Wal-mart, on a quest to destroy it. At the center was a huge mirror showing everyone’s reflection. The main character (Kyle) who had battled to reach the center couldn’t understand, until he realized that the heart of Wal-Mart was himself. Without shoppers looking for the lowest possible price, Wal-mart wouldn’t exist.

    We’ve all just got to face the facts that regular rules of sanity don’t apply when land is going for 100,000 dollars an acre in this area. Everyone with money is fleeing from the collapsing Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, and they’re all coming to western Union County. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.

  2. It is not so much that land is $100,000 per acre as it is the speed with which it got there. Seven years ago I refused to purchase land for $25,000 per acre next to Weddington Optimist Park, to expand the park. Two years later we did purchase a tract of flood plaine land on the other side for that price, and now they are looking at the other side again for $75,000 per acre, with a donation clause for $25,000 per acre.
    The Myers Park culture is alive and well and has not set its sights on Union County. They have developed a good private school system and are happy being the envy of the whole city. That is my customer base, so I know them pretty well. Union County is not on their radar. People may flee Charlotte for Union County, but for ever one that leaves, two move in to take their place.
    My biggest problem with the discussion over development in Union County is the way that land owners have allowed themselves to be cast as “victims” because painting developers as victims just will not fly. How the heck are you a victim when the value of your land has quadrupled in five years? The only victims are the landowners who choose to hold onto family land through all this. We need a tax structure to reward such perseverence.
    Mark knows that one of my two or three best friends through life is the guy whose family owns the majority of the land on which Rae Road is to be built through Weddington. Uncertainty has kept the sale of that land from being finalized, but that is because he opted for a high end bid. He could well take a few million less and get rid of the land today. Whichever, he is nobody’s victim.
    My parents sold our farm in the sixties for $20,000. They used the money to buy a house and start a business in Matthews. That same land was bought by my dad for money made by cutting off cord wood from the land and selling it, in the late 40′s. Today, that 44.8 acres is worth $4,500,000 for residential development. If controls drive that price down to $3,500,000, how is anyone a victim?
    Walmart may dance into Waxhaw on the coattails of this reasoning of property rights and the victimhood of landowners, but all that is just a smoke screen. The only question here is, does this economic engine we call Walmart have the power to destroy the Town of Waxhaw and if so, who are the accomplices in that destruction, and for what few pieces of silver did they sell out their heritage and enironment?
    Do not underestimate the drawing power of 170,000 square feet of airconditioned space in the South. Some people would sell their mothers for less.

  3. I don’t think Wal-mart’s store is a question of property rights, at least in reference to farmland. Wal-marts don’t usually take up 50 acres of land, which is about the smallest farm you’ll find in these parts.

    You mentioned that nobody should complain when controls/zoning reduce the value of a property from $4,500,000 to $3,500,000.

    I’m not sure what math you’re using but that’s still a regulatory “taking” of a million dollars. Most would consider that to be quite a lot of money, and people will definitely sue over it.

    As for family land being unfairly taxed, nearly all farmland in the county is taxed at agricultural rates, which are around 1% of what residential property is taxed at. You do have to be actually farming the land to get the discount, though.

    I also think your weddington friend should sell as soon as possible- in case you haven’t noticed, the nationwide real estate bubble is collapsing. You might not be able to get half the current prices a few years from now.

  4. Oh, I forgot to respond to your mentioning of “perseverence” and families holding onto land.

    It’s pretty amazing how the zoning and town officials fail to see the glaring truth:

    There are zoning boards and towns fighting over every last remaining scrap of land, trying to annex it or ETJ it. If the land is inside a town boundary, then you’ve got zoning officials writing new rules DAILY on what you can do with your land. Every single one of those rules reduces the value of your property, from making it illegal to even cut down a tree, to putting 300 foot setbacks from the road for any structure, even down to dictacting what type of livestock you can raise and what type you can’t. (cows are pretty to look at as you drive by, but nobody wants to smell hogs)

    These towns who say they are trying to preserve the “rural feel” are doing exactly the opposite- farmers who own the open-space land that everyone wants to preserve, are selling while the selling is good! Why would any sane person take the risk of next year’s zoning board passing even more restrictive regulations, and further decreasing the value of their property?

    The end result is that ALL the farmers are selling, not only because the money is good right now, but because every official in the area has shown that they will do everything in their power to reduce the value of farmland in the future. So by trying to “protect” the rural look and feel, they’ve actually destroyed it.

  5. The question of the morality of Wal-Mart’s business practices, however tempting, is not the issue facing Waxhaw. And property rights…regardless of what the developers will tell you…are not absolute. NC law 160A-385 specifically states that “zoning ordinances may from time to time be amended, supplemented, changed, modified or repealed.” Citizens, landowners, and neighbors have NO vested right to existing zoning classifications. In McKinney v. City of High Point, the court held that an existing zoning ordinance “does NOT confer any vested right to have the ordinance remain forever in force, involate and unchanged.” Unless a property owner has obtained permits or incurred substantial expenditures in reliance of the current zoning, they have no guarantees or “rights” to the zoning of their properties.

    That being said, the property in question for the proposed Wal-Mart is zoned C-3. Certain uses by right exist within this zoning. Want to build a book store…pet shop…beauty salon? All you need are the requisite building permits. However…if you want to build a shopping center, a “home center,” or a fast food restaurant, you have to pass the four criteria of a conditional use permit imposed by the Waxhaw UDO. One of those criteria is whether the proposed development is a permissible use within the UDO. How does one definitively answer that question without a classification of the development? There is no permissible use for a big box store or supercenter…so Wal-Mart has to pick a use…problem is…they have chosen “retail center.” Oops…not in the UDO either.

    The fact is…there are safeguards, however inadequate, antiquated, or derelict they may be, in place to give municipalities a fighting chance at controlling their growth. The question is…will they step up and use the tools they have to do the right thing?

    The undeveloped land in Union County that do not currently have vested rights in the current zoning…have no absolute rights to zoning or development. The zoning can be changed at any time, for any reason, as long as it isn’t “spot zoning.” And even if the zoning isn’t changed…just because something is zoned commercial doesn’t mean ANY commercial venture is appropriate to any commercial lot…ie: harmony! (There is a reason this terminology is iterated in the statutes and ordinances.) This growth at any cost mentality, in the words of Jane Jacobs, will result in “everyplace becoming more like every other place, all adding up to no place.”

  6. TracyK. Very nice points. Can’t argue with any of them.

  7. When did the speed limit drop from 55mph to 45mph on hwy 84 between 12 mile creek and 16?

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