Ornduff says Wal-mart issue about 'quality of life'

By Thomas Wilson

   Debate over the presence of two major retail giants in Elizabethton goes beyond mere sales tax dollars, curb cuts, or who has the lowest prices on bathroom tissue, according to David Ornduff, the city's director of planning and development.
   "This is not about Wal-Mart and Walgreens," said Ornduff who was guest speaker at a meeting of the Elizabethton Rotary Club on Wednesday. "What is it about? It is about quality of life."
   The Elizabethton Planning Commission voted to approve two alternative site plans proposed for a Wal-Mart supercenter and a Walgreens drug store. City staffers warned against approving both companies submitted site plans that called for two curb cuts to allow traffic on West Elk Avenue to access each business.
   Both alternative plans passed by the commission set only the existing curb cut at the West Elk Avenue/Hudson Street intersection that leads into the North American Corp. campus.
   Ornduff recommended both alternative plans to the commission after city staffers and public safety officials warned against the curb cuts as potential traffic hazards to West Elk Ave motorists.
   Ornduff also said curb cuts in such close proximity to the NAC entrance point directly conflicted with the city's Major Thoroughfare Plan.
   "I believe the decision made by the planning commission last night regarding Walgreens and Wal-Mart was the best possible decision that could have been made," he said.
   He also dismissed any insinuation that the city was "anti-business" based on the commission's decision, adding that development had to be done with the entire public in mind, not simply on the whims of a few. He said as a resident of Elizabethton, he took umbrage with any corporation or organization that felt it could dictate public policy and decision-making affecting an entire community.
   "If you want to do business, come up to our level," he told Rotary members. "Why does everything have to be done their way or no way at all?"
   Ornduff pulled no punches in his assessment of reminding members that the community rose and fell with the participation of its citizens. "If you are willing to go along with that, you probably deserve it," he said.
   He also said he wanted to see the city's planning commission and City Council meeting filled to capacity with citizens interested in taking part in the development of their community.
   The Certified Properties firm based in Knoxville submitted the site plan to develop a Wal-Mart supercenter on the 22.69-acre tract where the North American Corporation building presently stands. The site plan called for a building covering 205,000 square feet with over 1,000 parking spaces.
   The Walgreens site plan called for an approximate 14,560 square-foot building. The city and that project's developers had been at odds last year over a potential curb cut near the West Elk/Hudson Drive intersection.
   As part of the alternative site plan, Ornduff presented an access road system with a street connecting the Wal-Mart and Walgreens site to Wallace Avenue that provided a secondary access point to West Elk Avenue. The plan as presented interconnected a series of access roads including one that ran parallel to West Elk Ave., and another that passed behind the proposed Wal-Mart building to access Sycamore Shoals Hospital.
   Ornduff praised city staff members who he said had spent months and years gathering information about a potential Super Wal-Mart development, a process that had not been taken lightly.
   Ornduff said he expected the Walgreens and Wal-Mart developments to become a reality. What the future held for the community after that was up to the citizens of Elizabethton and Carter County, he said.
   "Is Wal-Mart good for the community? I don,t know," said Ornduff. "Time will tell."