Written by Jesse Farthing and Carrie Eidson
After nearly eight hours of witness testimony, evidence and cross-examinations, the Buncombe County Board of Adjustment voted 6-1 to approve the proposed development of Coggins Farm in Riceville.
Neighbors have opposed the large-scale development of the 169-acre site that would include 48 new single-family homes, 60 apartments, 36 multiplex homes, four campus office buildings, a school and a bed and breakfast.
Vice Chair John Yurko was the only dissenting vote at the end of the extensive “quasi-judicial” hearing.
Patsy Brison, attorney representing the opposition to the development, motioned to continue the hearing on the grounds that they had not been granted all of their requests prior to the hearing, but the board denied the motion.
During the hearing, the board had the opportunity to hear from neighbors concerned with the possibility of development affecting their own property values, flooding from Bull Creek and the increased traffic the project would create on roads that residents say are already dangerous.
Experts brought in by the developers said flood level increases would be immeasurably small and traffic would be within acceptable Department of Transportation expectations.
“The project is a low density and low impact project,” Lou Bissette, attorney for the development, said during the hearing. “The developers have held numerous community and individual meetings with the neighbors, they’ve listened to the neighbors… and in response to a number of requests they have substantially reduced the residential density.”
In an interview last week with Xpress, lead developer David Case confirmed that his company had been in conversation with Ron Ainspan, a current resident of Coggins Farm and partner of the property’s owner, and other Riceville residents to discuss ways to reduce density.
“We know that any way we can be smaller and have less of a foot print would receive a positive response from the neighbors,” Case said, adding that the situation “is complicated.”
Under the new site plan, a previous rezoning request has been removed and the number of housing units has been reduced from 382 to 281.
“We have made a very conscious effort to try to listen and to meet the neighbor’s concerns as best we can and still come up with a really good project,” Case said. “We reduced density by almost a third. There was a lot of resistance to the school and housing being up near Holly Hill, so we’ve completely taken away development from that part of the site. We moved the school to the village center. There was concern about only one entry way; we put in a second entry way. There was a lot of concern about traffic but, of course, when you reduce the density you reduce the traffic. We’re having our traffic engineer update the report to reflect that.”
Copper Coggins, the property’s owner, stood up during the hearing to speak in favor of the development, saying “My head, my heart and my conscience [are] in total agreement” regarding the contract with Case.
Yurko called the lengthy hearing “thorough and very productive” at the beginning of the board’s deliberations on granting the permit.
Witnesses from both sides were sworn in all at once on the lone bible in the room at the Board of Adjustments hearing on Wednesday, April 9. If the witnesses couldn’t reach the bible they were instructed to place their left hand on someone else who was touching it. (Jesse Farthing/ Mountain Xpress)
Neighboring resident Charles Wykle, who has organized much of the neighborhood resistance to the project, said the verdict was “Not unexpected. Not really.”
Wykle argued, “The dialogue we could have was very limited in terms of facts and so forth,” during the hearing and said he felt the whole process was “not right.”
“I’ve got to talk to my attorney, but we’re not through,” Wykle said.
Case told Xpress that much of the changes to the site plan were in response to concerns raised by Riceville residents and that several neighbors had expressed their approval of the new plan.
“I’m really proud of this new site,” Case said. “Our new site plan is way better than our old site plan and part of the reason for that is the dialog we’ve had with the neighborhood.”
Several Riceville residents were also present at the County Commissioner’s meeting on Tuesday, April 1, where residents presented a petition they say held around 900 signatures in opposition to the development of the property to the commissioners — though the project was ultimately withdrawn from the commissioner’s consideration when the rezoning request was removed.
Case said he was aware of an electronic petition of about 260 signatures, which he says was signed by many people whose addresses were not from the United States. However, Case said he is “perplexed” by the number of signatures on the petition presented at the commissioners meeting and considered the petition a further sign of NIMBYism from some residents in the Riceville community.
“We’re just going for things that are allowed in an R2 [the current zoning for the site] or are allowed by special permission,” Case said. “We’re playing by all the rules. I would pose the question to the people who are against it — if the shoe was on the other foot and someone came to them and said, ‘You bought your house under a certain set of rules but now we want to change those rules,’ there would be a lot of resistance to that.”
For more information on the Coggins Farm project, read our January cover story Colliding Visions: Coggins Farm proposal could bring major change to Riceville.