After hearing from dozens of residents who spoke out on the matter June 25, Buncombe County commissioners denied a request to expand where motor sports facilities can be built.
Stacy Ogle asked for the change, which would’ve allowed motor sport facilities to operate in all areas of the county that are zoned as a Commercial Service or Employment districts, subject to certain conditions. Such facilities are already allowed in Open Use districts, which cover roughly 80 percent of the county. Ogle told the commissioners he wants to build one along U.S. 70 in Swannanoa, near Berry’s Farm Supplies, on land that’s currently zoned for commercial development.
Buncombe’s zoning ordinance defines “motor sports facility” as “any facility, track, or course upon which racing or motor sporting events are conducted, including, but not limited to vehicles, motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, motor scooters, go-carts, etc.”
During the public hearing on Ogle’s request, about 30 residents spoke out. Half said they supported the change, some of them arguing that his racetrack would provide a needed place for children to learn how to safely ride motorcycles.
But about 15 residents, many of whom live in the Swannanoa area, told commissioners they worried about the noise and its harm to surrounding businesses, residences and property values.
Commissioner Mike Fryar represents District 2, which includes Swannanoa. He noted that he’s always been against zoning and added that he didn’t see anything wrong with allowing a motocross facility in the area. Fryar, who use to build race-car engines, has often lamented the 1999 closing of the Asheville Motor Speedway (now Carrier Park).
Commissioner Ellen Frost also represents District 2, but she noted that altering the county’s entire zoning ordinance would’ve “opened the door” to development beyond Ogle’s property.
Planning Director Jon Ceighton reported that a previous motocross track at a different site in Swannanoa generated an unprecedented amount of complaints from neighbors. Planning staff recommended that commissioners deny the request, and Buncombe Planning Board members were split on the issue, with four members recommending approval and four members urging denial.
In the end, Fryar and Commissioner Joe Belcher were in the minority. The board voted 5-2 to deny Ogle’s request.
Budget in waiting
On June 25, commissioners voted to postpone their vote on the proposed $337 million Buncombe County budget. Three days later, they hedged again, unanimously passing an interim measure that gives them until July 28 to set property-tax rates and finalize the budget.
Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene recommended postponement so that state legislators could have more time to approve a bill that would allow the county to create an independent Cultural and Recreation Authority (see “A Cultural Bypass” on page 12).
Her proposed budget calls for raising the property tax rate by 15 percent to cover a drop in property values, increased funding requests and unfunded federal mandates. For example, it calls for spending $20.2 million to build a new Isaac Dickson Elementary school building, although it delays a request to replace Asheville Middle School until 2018. And it gives local nonprofits slightly more money overall than last year, but much less than they asked for.
On June 25, all of the commissioners except for Fryar indicated that they’re likely to vote in favor of the budget and property-tax increase. Presenting a PowerPoint to make his case against the proposal, Fryar worried that the rate hike will result in “taking money out of the peoples pockets who can afford it the least.”
Board Chair David Gantt countered that the tax increase is minimal, and commissioners have little choice if they want to continue providing popular services. “We want to reflect your values,” he maintained. “We want this to be a good place to go to school, to work, and to retire.”
— Jake Frankel can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 115, or email@example.com.