A new hotel?

More commercial development is on the way for a spot in Oteen, thanks to a unanimous rezoning decision by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners at its May 1 meeting.

At the urging of property owner H.P. Patel, a vacant 1.78-acre parcel at 1501 Tunnel Road was rezoned from R–2 (Residential District) to CS (Commercial Service District).

The surrounding area is made up of a mix of residential and commercial development. Patel said he's considering a variety of commercial uses for the property, including a hotel. He also owns a neighboring Days Inn.

The board also unanimously approved a request from property owner Carol Holcombe to rezone approximately 1.04 acres at 375 and 381 Old Charlotte Highway in Fairview from R-LD (Low-Density Residential District) to CS (Commercial Service District). However, the designation won’t change much at the site, which was already in commercial use before the countywide zoning ordinance went in to effect. It’s currently the home of Mountain Harvest florist and garden center.

Commissioner K. Ray Bailey, who lives in Fairview, noted: "For those that pass it every day, I thought it already was [zoned commercial]."

Fairview resident Colleah Habif, co-owner of the former Sugar Beet Café, said she plans to buy the property and put a coffee house or tea shop on it.

No Buncombe County residents expressed any opposition to either rezoning request during public hearings. Both the county's planning staff and the Planning Board recommended approving the changes, noting in reports that they're "consistent with the Buncombe County Comprehensive Land Use Plan."

On the road again

The commissioners also heard a report on the state Department of Transportation's secondary-roads-construction program. DOT plans to spend nearly $2.2 million on improvements to various roads in Buncombe County over the next year, according to the report.

The largest single project is planned for a 10-mile stretch of Old Fort and Chestnut Hill roads in Fairview, which are scheduled to get $210,000 worth of shoulder widening, drainage upgrades and sight-distance improvements.

Years ago, the secondary roads construction program focused on paving gravel roads, said Chad Bandy, N.C. DOT district engineer. However, now the DOT is shifting resources into improving roads that are already paved in the county, he told commissioners.

The DOT would like to pave about 56 more miles of roads in the county, but has been unable to get necessary rights–of–way approvals from adjoining property owners. Nearly all the other roads in Buncombe County that meet the DOT's requirements for paving have already been paved at this point, he explained.

"That's good news," said board Chairman David Gantt, noting that the DOT's list of critical needs for the area used to be much longer.

However, Jupiter resident Don Yelton expressed frustration during a public hearing on the matter that Jupiter Road wasn't on the list for upgrades.

"Jupiter Road is in bad shape; it's excessively narrow," he maintained, urging officials to find funding to widen it in the future.

Environmental kudos

During a portion of the meeting dedicated to "good news," Gantt presented a group of individuals and businesses with Buncombe Environmental Leadership Awards.

He had effusive praise for Bill Eaker of the Land-of-Sky Regional Council, noting his 30 years of experience in environmental, land-use and growth-management planning at the local, regional and state levels. Eaker has managed more than 50 environmental improvement projects for Land-of-Sky, including watershed protection, steep-slope development and education initiatives, said Gantt.

"He's been behind the scenes with every single initiative Buncombe County has done with Land-of-Sky," Gantt noted. "He'll be modest and say, 'I had a lot of help,' but someone has to push these initiatives, somebody has to dream and somebody has to realize what could be — not what is. And Bill Eaker has been that man for us, for years."

True to Gantt's prediction, Eaker thanked and praised many of the groups and individuals he's worked with over the years as he accepted the award. "Partnerships, that's what it's all about," he insisted.

A different local partnership also received an environmental leadership award from Gantt.

Over the past year, the Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute and the Asheville Independent Restaurant Association groups have been working with 17 local restaurants to achieve nationally recognized green certification through the Green Restaurant Association. A $250,000 grant from the N.C. Green Business Fund has been used to help participating restaurants cover the costs of solar hot water installations and energy-efficiency upgrades. Part of the idea behind the initiative is to make the area a green travel destination for food lovers, Gantt noted.

"I think they've successfully converted Asheville to an environmental model — a mecca," he maintained. "It's an experimental, beautiful project."

Public comment

During a general public-comment period, board members heard from a pair of residents who weighed in on a few timely issues related to the county's relationship to city and state governments.

Milton Byrd, a retired respiratory care specialist who's running in the Democratic primary for board chair against Gantt, urged the commissioners to pass a resolution officially endorsing the city of Asheville's planning process about the future of its water system. A state legislative committee headed by Rep. Tim Moffitt recently recommended the controversial step of transferring control of the city's water system to the Metropolitan Sewerage District.

Byrd, however, avoided taking a strong stand on the committee's recommended course, instead calling for more study and local input.

"The state looks at water authority through one framework, and our local residents and local government look at it differently," he said.

Meanwhile, Karen Oelschlaeger expressed disappointment that the board chose not to pass a resolution officially opposing Amendment One, as the city of Asheville recently did.

The amendment to the state constitution would add language that bans marriage between same-sex couples and the ability of municipalities to offer same-sex partner benefits to employees, among other changes. A statewide referendum on the matter was scheduled for May 8.

Oelschlaeger noted that in a previous phone conversation with Gantt, he told her that it was the board's policy not to weigh in on statewide issues. However, in her remarks, she noted that the issue would have local consequences.

"My concern with the amendment is that it does affect local decision-making abilities," she said, adding that it would force Asheville to take away some employee benefits and limit the county's ability to offer them in the future. "I'm personally disappointed on that."

She also weighed in on another equality issue, urging the board to "update its employment nondiscrimination policy, which still does not include sexual orientation as a protected category. "

"That's something that could be done easily, with no additional cost to the taxpayers and would make a lot of Buncombe County residents very happy," she maintained.

No property-tax increase proposed

In other business, County Manager Wanda Greene announced that she'll present a budget proposal May 15 that will not call for a property-tax increase.

The board also:• unanimously passed a resolution that empowers staff to negotiate financial contracts for several capital projects that it already approved;
• unanimously approved refunding $740 in overpaid excise tax to George Morosani; and
• witnessed Sheriff Van Duncan present several of his deputies with medals of honor for outstanding service to the community.

— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or frankel@mountainx.com.

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