Beacon site in Swannanoa subject of public comment period

HOLE IN THE HEART: The vacant 42-acre parcel at the center of the Swannanoa community where the Beacon Manufacturing Co. once produced blankets by the millions could see redevelopment for any number of uses if the property's owners receive permission from the regulators with the state Department of Environmental Quality. Imagery © 2017 Google, map data © 2017 Google
HOLE IN THE HEART: The vacant 42-acre parcel at the center of the Swannanoa community where the Beacon Manufacturing Co. once produced blankets by the millions could see redevelopment for any number of uses if the property's owners receive permission from the regulators with the state Department of Environmental Quality. Imagery © 2017 Google, map data © 2017 Google

The 42-acre site of the Beacon Manufacturing plant was once the vibrant center of the Swannanoa community. From its opening in 1925, the plant was a major employer. During the height of production in the 1940s, over 2,000 workers owed their livelihoods to the blanket maker. And the company didn’t just provide a paycheck: Owner Charles D. Owen sponsored recreation and facilities for employees, and was renowned for his open-door policy that welcomed any worker to bring concerns and requests directly to his office.

The factory’s slow decline through the 1970s and 1980s followed trends that weighed on the American textile industry as a whole. The passage in 1994 of the North American Free Trade Agreement was seen by many as the industry’s death blow, sending most of the remaining jobs to Central and South America. The factory closed in 2002, and, in 2003, a massive fire set by an arsonist destroyed 1 million square feet of factory buildings. Since then, the land has stood vacant — and contaminated.

Designated a brownfield site by the state of North Carolina, the property is eligible for reuse, despite the presence of toxic substances that exceed allowable limits in soil and groundwater. Prospective developers of brownfield sites can negotiate a plan for suitable uses with state regulators, so long as the developers were not responsible for the contamination in the first place.

Retired Ingles Markets’ real estate executive Gordon S. Myers bought the property on March 11, 2005. According to documents filed with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, Myers and the Robert P. Ingle Living Trust each own a 50 percent stake in Swannanoa Valley Partners LLC, the entity that controls the site.

The site is bounded to the northwest by U.S. Highway 70 and to the southeast by Interstate 40. In addition to those major thoroughfares, roadways in the area include Richmond, Edwards, Railroad and Whitson avenues; Railroad, Dennis and Barker streets; and Old Lytle Cove Road.

The partners have filed paperwork to get the ball rolling on obtaining permission to develop the site, though the two plan to sell the property rather than develop it themselves, according to Tracy Wahl, an Asheville-based representative of the Department of Environmental Quality. “We’ve been out there at least four times with different developers,” she says, but none of those deals have panned out. The owners recently decided to move forward with a broad request to allow many different uses on the property in hopes of attracting a buyer, she says.

Members of the public may comment on the property owners’ plans until Sept. 29. If approved, the site could be developed for multifamily residential, industrial, retail, recreation and commercial uses. Areas at the northern and southern edges of the site would be restricted to industrial or commercial uses only. No child or adult care facilities or schools could be built without separate permission from the state. Other conditions include requirements such as installing vapor mitigation measures to prevent fumes from soil contamination from entering buildings, providing prior notice before disturbing any soil, and continuing to monitor for soil and water contamination for a minimum of three years after levels are shown to be stable, declining or absent.

Contaminants present on the site include volatile organic compounds (organic compounds that easily become vapors or gases), metals (including lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt and mercury) and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which are most likely a result of the 2003 fire, according to Wahl.

“We usually get very little comment” on brownfield redevelopment plans, Wahl says. The proposed Enka Sports Complex, a project to add playing fields on the contaminated former site of the American Enka plant near the intersection of Sand Hill Road and Smoky Park Highway, was an exception. After receiving many calls, emails and letters during the public comment period, the Department of Environmental Quality held public meetings on the project.

Notices of the comment period for plans for the Beacon site were published in a local newspaper, posted at the property and mailed to adjacent property owners. The letter sent to property owners directed those interested to view the proposed uses and other documents at the Black Mountain Public Library. The documents are also available online at avl.mx/42v.

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About Virginia Daffron
Managing editor, lover of mountains, native of WNC. Follow me @virginiadaffron

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4 thoughts on “Beacon site in Swannanoa subject of public comment period

  1. Katherine Parker

    Please don’t put anything in this empty lot! All you are doing is bringing down our property values, inviting more crime and drugs into our community, not to mention at one time they were considering deeming the village as historical. That all went down the drain with the development of the habitat homes. Please leave what is left of our peaceful little town alone.

  2. Samantha Gallman

    I am a member of Friends and Neighbors of Swannanoa (FANS). I am posting this comment on behalf of this organization which cares deeply about the families in our community.

    We wish to have more information on the potential uses of the site. Although, the information given about its possible development indicated it could be mixed use, which could include residential; we noticed that some uses have been forbidden. A use which is not allowed is that of a child care facility, which in our collective mind raises the question about the site’s true potential as mixed use rather than purely industrial. Although residences may be allowed, who would want to develop residential properties on a site that apparently has been determined to be toxic to children.

    We do not want future use of the site to increase the environmental damage already done at or near the site. A wonderful community exists in the neighborhood and those families deserve consideration. We hope that any development that occurs would provide benefits not just to the economic aspects of our community but also to the quality of life aspects.

    We also want to bring attention to the fact that although the development in question is in Swannanoa, the information regarding the development was delivered to the Black Mountain Public Library rather than the Swannanoa Branch Library. A thriving community exists in Swannanoa and access to the information in our own neighborhood would have been most appropriate.

    • Bruce Whitaker

      I am the largest land owner, besides the Beacon site, on Richmond Ave. I own 3 houses and 24 lots on the street. I was not notified of the project and there were no signs or notices posted on the street which I travel almost every week. I do not think the county made any effort to contact anyone on Richmond Ave. They did NOT want the people of the Old Village to know anything about. They were afraid they would object. The period for public comment should be reopened

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