After a tense back-and-forth between members of the board and residents in the audience, the Buncombe County Board of Adjustment approved the development of a 296-unit apartment complex off Aiken Road just south of Weaverville during its Dec. 13 meeting.
At its November meeting, board members requested that Hathaway Development LLC, the firm behind the project, bring the results of an ongoing traffic study to its December meeting. The results ultimately satisfied the members of the board, who approved the project unanimously on the condition that the developers maintain access to the existing homes on Country Oak Drive, which intersects Aiken.
“It was prudent to do the traffic study,” said board member Thomas Christ. “It wasn’t something that was required or critical, and it’s not something that we normally do. I’m pretty happy with the traffic study.”
Pushing for time
Discussion about the apartment complex began with a request to continue the issue until a future meeting. Meghann Burke, an attorney for Linda Tweed and Nancy Hyder, who live near the proposed project, wanted more time to review the traffic study submitted by Hathaway Development, which Burke had received that morning.
“We’ve not had sufficient time to examine the traffic impact study and to prepare a presentation of evidence,” Burke said. “The board saw fit to ask that they provide that information and thought that it was critical for the determination of the issues today. Having not had an opportunity to review that report or to retain our own expert to make an independent conclusion, we move to continue this matter today for another one to two months to afford us this opportunity.”
The board denied her request in a 4-1 vote, with board Chair George Lycan voting in the minority.
Wyatt Stevens, an attorney representing Hathaway Development, addressed the concerns expressed by Burke’s client. “Her concern is, ‘What’s going to happen during construction if I get cut off in terms of ambulances,’” Stevens said. “What they’re going to do is create a new access that will come through the development and that will be to fire department standards. That will be constructed before Country Oak Drive is under construction at all, so that folks like Ms. Tweed will have unimpeded safe access to her property.”
Chris Day, senior project manager with Civil Design Concepts, says the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s policy on street and driveway access requires a traffic study to be performed under a few different scenarios, one being a development that produces 3,000 vehicles per day.
Accounting for 332 multifamily dwelling units (the maximum housing density Hathaway Development could accrue for the 296-apartment development), the traffic study estimates that the development would produce a little more than 2,100 vehicles per day. Taking into account an adjacent development of 75 single-family dwelling units, residential development around Aiken Road would produce a total of about 2,800 vehicles per day.
The traffic study analyzed three intersections — the access onto Aiken Road as well as the intersections with Merrimon Avenue to the east and with New Stock Road to the west.
Traffic studies analyze delays at intersections by assigning them a level of service category — labeled “A” through “F” — that represents how stable the traffic flow conditions are. “A” represents the least impeded traffic conditions, and “F” the most impeded traffic conditions.
Traffic traveling along Aiken Road to the intersections at New Stock Road and Merrimon Avenue are controlled by stop signs. “What the traffic study says is that the traffic movements that are going north to south in both of these intersections are really not impacted,” Day said. “The delay stays exactly the same. … What they did show is, as expected, the traffic delays increase as you came from our project from Aiken Road.”
Under existing traffic conditions, the study says, traffic turning left or right from Aiken onto Merrimon experiences 12- to 13-second delays during peak traffic hours, a delay that is classified as level of service “B.” Taking into account the extra traffic produced by the proposed residential development, the study says these delays would increase to 19 to 20 seconds, which would degrade the level of service from “B” to “C.”
Westbound traffic turning left or right from Aiken onto New Stock Road would see a similar increase in the delay, shifting from about 14 seconds under existing conditions to about 18 seconds during the morning peak traffic hours and from about 16 seconds to about 24 seconds during peak traffic hours in the afternoon.
The study also took into account natural increase in traffic over time as a result of unrelated construction projects popping up in the area. Compared with this natural increase in traffic, eastbound traffic turning from Aiken Road to New Stock and Merrimon would still degrade from level of service “B” to level of service “C,” but the authors of the study argue that it is “not uncommon for stop-controlled approaches to experience greater delays during peak times of the day when traffic volumes are the heaviest.”
The traffic study concluded that the 296-apartment complex would not have a significant impact on traffic in the surrounding area.
During the board of adjustment meeting in November, a series of residents who lived close to the proposed Aiken Road development approached the microphone to speak against the project, expressing concern about how the added traffic would impact the safety of the roads. The Board of Adjustment meeting room was again full on Dec. 13.
Many of the board members expressed support for the development with the added context provided by the traffic study, stating that the development met the criteria established by county ordinances. “I think there may be concerns in the county in general about these kinds of developments,” said board member Keith Levi. “But I think the way to handle is through review by the elected officials and changes in the ordinances.”
The show of support by members of the board angered nearby residents at the meeting.
“Believe me, we hear this,” Lycan said. “We were living in the woods, and we were great, and life was wonderful, and here you’re building buildings here in the dirt, and you’re cutting down trees — but it meets the bar of the ordinance.”