Buncombe commissioners deny motor sports expansion, delay budget vote

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.

Requested by Stacy Ogle, the change 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. They’re already allowed in Open Use districts, which cover roughly 80 percent of the county.

The 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.”

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. About half of the roughly 30 residents who spoke out on the matter during a public hearing said they supported Ogle’s request. Several argued that the racetrack would provide a needed place for children to learn how to safely ride motorcycles.

However, the other 15 or so attendees, many of whom lived in the Swannanoa area, told commissioners they worried about the noise and its harm to surrounding businesses, residences and property values.

In the end, Commissioners Mike Fryar and Joe Belcher cast the lone votes in favor of the change.

Fryar represents District 2, which includes Swannanoa. He noted that he’s always been against zoning, adding that he didn’t see anything wrong with allowing a motocross facility in the area. Fryar is a retired race car engine builder, and has often lamented the closing of the Asheville Motor Speedway in 1999.

However, Commissioner Ellen Frost, who also represents District 2, said that altering the county’s entire zoning ordinance as requested 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. The volunteer Planning Board was split on the issue, with four members recommending approval and four members urging denial.

Budget in waiting

With the fate of a bill in the North Carolina General Assembly that would allow the the county to create an independent Cultural and Recreation Authority still in question, commissioners delayed a vote on their $337 million budget until June 28.

Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene recommended the pause in order to give state legislators more time to approve the measure. Her plan calls for using the new law to levy a special tax and dedicate the revenue to a long list of projects.

The next fiscal year begins July 1, and commissioners are required by state law to pass a budget before that date.

All of the commissioners except for Mike Fryar indicated June 25 that they’re likely to vote in favor of a budget that calls for raising the property tax rate by 15 percent to to cover a drop in property values, increased funding requests and unfunded federal mandates.

The proposal also 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.

Nonprofit spending has also been a hotly contested subject in budget negotiations. The latest plan calls for giving local groups slightly more money overall than last year, but much less than they asked for.

Commissioners will reconvene in the commissioner’s chambers, located at 200 College Street, suite 326, on Friday, June 28, at 9 a.m.

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About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning writer and reporter who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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