A proposed “eco-friendly” north Asheville development has nearby residents worried that it won’t be neighborhood-friendly.
Asheville developers Bill Fleming and Elana Kann want to build Wild Cherry Village, a 76-unit townhouse community, on 20 acres off Beaverdam Road.
The two developers — co-owners of Neighborhood Design/Build — plan to employ many of the same design principles they used in creating the Westwood Cohousing Community in West Asheville, including energy-efficient homes, plenty of green space, and an overall design that puts more emphasis on community and less on cars.
“Most developers will not do this kind of development,” observes Kann. “It’s not conventional; it’s safer to stay with what’s tried and true and what’s been done before a lot.”
Several neighbors seem resigned to the idea that the property — part of the old Thoms estate — will be developed. But they oppose Wild Cherry for several reasons, including its size and concerns that it won’t fit the neighborhood’s single-family character.
“Westwood’s great,” comments neighbor Julie Niwinski. “This is just so not Westwood.”
The matter will come to a head on Feb. 11, when the Asheville City Council will consider whether to approve a Planned Unit Overlay District for the project, which allows homes to be clustered together and thus preserve open space, says Asheville urban planner Carter Pettibone. The existing zoning is RS-4, which allows four single-family units per acre. The PUD Overlay District allows for 110 percent of the density of the underlying zoning — in this case, 88 units, says Pettibone — and that’s before any density bonuses kick in.
The project has already passed the city’s Technical Review Committee and Planning and Zoning Commission. The city’s Planning Department is recommending approval, Pettibone says.
A different vision
The plans for Wild Cherry Village diverge from conventional development in two main ways — the emphasis on energy-efficient homes and the nontraditional layout.
At Wild Cherry Village, solar energy collected at a central “energy building” would heat individual townhouses via radiant floor heating as well as provide hot water to the residences and a lodge. (A natural-gas-fueled boiler would serve as a backup system.)
Besides saving money, central energy systems — which are more common in Europe — allow for quieter homes and cleaner air, the developers say. The radiant floor heat also cuts down on allergens, notes Fleming (whose other business, Shelter Technology, specializes in installing such systems).
The developers also plan to install energy-efficient appliances and lighting to cut down on electrical-power demand, thereby providing broader environmental benefits. “We don’t like what we see of how electricity is generated,” says Kann. “It’s one of the most polluting of industries.”
As at Westwood, parking would be relegated to the development’s periphery, allowing the interior to be devoted to green space (six to eight acres, all told) with playgrounds and walking and biking trails. Residents would use manual and electric carts to transport people and goods from car to door.
A central lodge — including a kitchen and dining room — would provide shared space for meetings and events, as well as guest rooms for visitors and a playroom for children. The developers also are considering offering such services as grocery delivery, meal preparation and pooled transportation to town via electric-powered vans.
“You won’t have to go off-site for every little thing you need,” Kann explains.
Wild Cherry Village would also differ significantly from Westwood, however. With 76 townhouses, the new development would be three times as large. That expanded scale, however, would create greater energy savings and would generate enough money (pooled through a homeowners’ association) to pay for professional management of the grounds, lodge, energy system and other details.
The 1,300 to 2,200 square foot townhouses would be priced in the $300,000 range.
Despite the project’s environmentally friendly aspects, however, neighbors remain unenthused, rolling out a lengthy list of criticisms.
“They’re going to double the size of our neighborhood in one fell swoop,” complains Eric Niwinski, who (as a general contractor) says he’s not opposed to development in general.
“We know the property is going to be developed,” Niwinski asserts. “And if you can develop within the current zoning constraints right now … go for it. Do it! But we don’t want apartment buildings.”
Though he acknowledges that the townhouses won’t actually be apartment buildings, he maintains that the effect will be much the same — to “cram as much as they possibly can into what area they can.”
Developer/architect Mark Sinsky thinks Wild Cherry Village would be too big to have a neighborhood feel. By contrast, Sinsky points to a project he developed nearby that put eight homes on 17 acres; he hopes Council will make Wild Cherry’s developers come back with a better plan.
“They talk about their solar and they talk about their electric buses and they talk about saving the green spaces, but it really is not neighborhood-friendly or even a plan conducive to neighborhoods,” Sinsky insists.
Kann, however, says that she and Fleming plan to make three of the four clusters of townhouses face one another to create more of a community feel.
Neighbor Franzi Talley says she was intrigued by project’s environmental aspects at first.
“I’m progressive: I’m into the solar, I’m into environmentally friendly buildings. I really like anything that has that kind of direction,” Talley explains. “It really is a mixed feeling. But I really don’t have any mixed feelings about the impact it will have on us.
“It’s really, really intense for this area, which … has a different zoning. And the fact that they’re trying to change it is really annoying,” she says.
What’s more, after other neighbors complained that the entrance would create traffic problems because it would be too close to Beaverdam Road, Talley says the plans now call for the entrance to be right next to her deck, a prospect she sees as “nightmarish.”
Kann counters that would give Talley’s deck a “wide berth” and do heavy plantings to preserve privacy.
With some prodding from City Council, Talley hopes the developers will modify their plan.
“I think, at this point, everybody’s intelligent and knowledgeable enough that we can create a win/win situation that nobody has to lose,” says Talley.
Not all the local reviews are negative, however. Brownie Newman of the WNC Alliance expressed support at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting for the project’s goal of preserving open space and providing alternative means of transportation.
And Boone Guyton, a local “green” builder, calls Wild Cherry the most “environmentally considerate” local project, for its size, that he’s heard of, adding: “It seems like the attitude has been environmentally appropriate, and they’ve really taken into account trying to be as green as possible in the way they build.”
For their parts, Fleming and Kann say they have listened to neighbors, going so far as to host two community meetings back in October.
In addition, the developers say they’re working with the city to dedicate an easement for a greenway that would stretch about 720 feet parallel to Beaverdam Road — and so jump-start a greenway project along a busy road (which lacks sidewalks).
“So we’re giving it a very big start,” Kann suggests.