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.