Buncombe County Board of Adjustment punts variance request to next month, frustrating opponents

After the Board of Adjustment unanimously approved a continuation on the variance request, many opponents voiced frustration over having to yet again take time off work to return to the Wednesday, May 11 meeting at 12 p.m. Photo by Dan Hesse

Development concerns took center stage during the Buncombe County Board of Adjustment meeting on Wednesday, April 13. At issue is a variance request that would allow construction of homes on parcels smaller than the existing R-2 Residential zoning allows.

The land in question is at 223 Williams Road in Fletcher and is about 16.52 acres. Ken Jackson, the developer, has said it is not feasible to extend Metropolitan Sewerage District lines to the proposed development. R-2 zoning allows for a minimum lot size of 30,000 square feet, or roughly 0.68 of an acre if there is no public sewer. However, Jackson wants an exception that would allow him to build a total of 29 residential units. If the variance were to be approved, lot sizes would range from 0.38 to 0.68 acres.

Ron Hill, president of Sterling Heights Property Association, is worried the septic tanks won’t have nearly enough room in the proposed lot sizes. “When we start getting variances and start changing the laws to suit what we like, as far as developing, we get into a problem. Having been on a septic system most my life, .3 [acres], you’re going to have problems.”

Laurie Rudis, a resident of White Oak Plantation, expressed concerns that 29 additional units will change the character of the area by increasing traffic and is worried about the septic threshold. “When you start looking at homes going down to a third of an acre … to have a septic system you’ve got to have a backup area. If that septic fails, you’ve got to be able to build another septic system. And when you put a home for three or four kids on a third of an acre with septic, and you put 29 in that area, you’re just asking for trouble.”

After six members of the public spoke out against the variance, three representing various homeowner associations, the Board of Adjustment closed public comments as other members of the public conceded they were there to oppose the issue but did not have any new concerns to raise.

At that point representatives for the developer asked for a continuance in hopes of working with the neighbors to address concerns. The Board of Adjustment unanimously approved a continuance of the variance to its May 11 meeting, a move that audibly upset many of the opponents as they complained about having to take time off work in the middle of the day again.

To those concerns board member George Lycan said, “I’m sorry about the dislocation of work, but that’s how it goes.”

After the meeting, Quint Ouellette, who lives near the proposed development said, “I think it’s just a stall. That’s all it is. What can they possibly come up with?”

Another opponent of the variance and nearby resident John Welty said, “To me, to have a continuance there has to be a reason. I didn’t see any reason demonstrated for a continuance. If you can’t demonstrate a hardship, then you don’t have a hardship. You don’t demonstrate a hardship you can’t get a variance.”

After the continuation was approved, Jackson told Xpress the septic issue is regulated by government agencies and he would be required to build a septic field and a repair field that would act as a backup septic area. “All those requirements and regulations are in place, and the people have a lot of concerns about the drain field; that’s not their worry. That’s the state of North Carolina’s worry.”

Jackson said he needs the variance to make money on the development. “If I develop lots that are meeting the .69 acre minimum then, based on what it costs to develop the land, when I take the purchase price of the land and development cost, then I don’t hit my target range if I have 19 lots.” Jackson conceded he could loose one or two lots and still make a profit.

He also said the sizes of the parcels are larger than opponents of the project claim. “The lots are not three-tenth of an acre, they’re not a one-third of an acre; the average lot size is 45/100th of an acre,” he said.

When asked if he will bring a new plan to the table at the continuance meeting on May 11, he said, “I don’t know. I got a lot of homework to do.”

The Buncombe County Board of Adjustment will consider the variance request at its next meeting on Wednesday, May 11, at noon.

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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8 thoughts on “Buncombe County Board of Adjustment punts variance request to next month, frustrating opponents

  1. Byron Belzak

    Thank you for the well-reported article. Once again, MountainX.com provides local readers important news that matters to “People that match our mountains.” Again, many thanks.

  2. luther blissett

    “Jackson said he needs the variance to make money on the development.”

    Well, tough shit. (Literally, in this case.) If your only path to profitability requires compromising something as fundamental as sewerage, then you gambled and lost, because if the septic system fails catastrophically, it’ll be the county and state that has to cover the cost of cleanup. Perhaps the county can ask the developer to stump up a large surety to cover those costs? Ah, but no, he has to make money on it…

    And yes, good reporting from the Mx.

  3. bsummers

    Ken Jackson, the developer, has said it is not feasible to extend Metropolitan Sewerage District lines to the proposed development

    This has got to be the City of Asheville’s fault, somehow. Thank the gods that the State is trying to seize the water system. Next, kick all the development-hating-commies off of MSD.

  4. Chris Sparks

    As a long time resident of Sequoyah Hills I’ve enjoyed watching my children wading in Limestone creek which is located downhill from the run off of this proposed development on steeply sloped, highly erodible land. Currently the creek runs clear and is home to a number of interesting creatures including a healthy frog population and the native hellbender salamander. The hellbender is listed as nearly threatened mainly due to habitat loss and degradation caused by sediment run off from development. If the homes go in as proposed the developer will need to cut down all of the trees increasing the sediment load into limestone creek which connects to the designated trout waters of Cane Creek before flowing into the French broad and heading for Asheville. We believe that the stormwater runoff combined with the smaller septic fields would cause undue pressure on an already fragile eco system and are not a justification for smaller lot sizes and increased profit margins. Sincerely, The Sparks family

  5. John Welty

    Thanks Dan Hesse, good article as to how the board hearing went.
    Buncombe county rural areas are growing and will in the future, that’s progress, and as a whole we all benefit from progress. But that progress needs to be designed and developed in an intelligent and thoughtful way that both allows for growth yet keeps a rural feel to the area.
    The developer feels he is unable to attain his necessary profit unless he is able to build on lots 25-30% smaller than Buncombe county requirements for the area. Yet right next door, literally back yard to back yard of his proposed development there is a fairly new neighborhood built that meets or exceeds the .68 acre requirement Buncombe county stipulates as the minimum lot size.
    The developer’s spokesman asked if I was able to see the new proposed development from my house, If I couldn’t why should I care what goes in. That in itself speaks volumes…
    If .39 acre size is the new standard, then why not .29, or .25, or .15 acre, or??? Is this the new rural Buncombe county we should expect in the near future?

  6. Susan Helm-Murtagh

    “Jackson said he needs the variance to make money on the development.” This case, then, is about one individual organization’s profit motive trumping environmental, septic threshold, and acceptable land use considerations. If Buncombe County permits this variance, then they are indeed setting a dangerous precedent.

  7. Michael Keenan

    I would like to thank Dan Hesse for responding as quickly as he did on such short notice. Rural lives matter!

  8. Glenn Rutledge

    I attended this Board meeting to oppose this variance as an 18 year resident of one of the adjacent neighborhoods. I reviewed the regulation that permits a reduction of the minimum lot size for parcels requiring septic systems. The statutes are very short and clear defining reasons for “hardship” that would allow such a variance. The representative of Jackson Development provided his overview of the proposed lot sizes but did not include any reference whatsoever to any hardship, the Chair asked directly what his hardship was. Still he provided nothing that directly addressed any of the statutes. The representative mumbled something about changes to the statutes. They obviously did not even make something up and to me appeared completely unprepared. I thought this would be an open and shut case since the law is the law right? Wrong. The chair asked their lawyer not on the board about this, and he replied “well it’s up to the Board”. No, it’s a law. Why then did the Board ALLOW Jackson MORE TIME to think of justifications for the variance? What if the same thing happened to me if I broke the law in some way- would the court say “OK, well let’s see if you can think of better excuses not to have to follow law”? Two things come to mind here: 1) if Jackson development were that unprepared for the simple consideration of 5 one line statues concerning a reduction of lot sizes, how can I trust their cited “Scientific” analysis of the impact of these much reduced sewer drain fields to a creek, near wet-land, and ground water impact to the drinking water to hundreds of nearby residents? and 2) the Chair is apparently a former developer and real-estate agent- and one wonders whether there is a bias in his thinking such that he allowed the requesting developer additional time to propose a better set of reasons for his hardship, rather than following the letter of the existing law and deny this request.
    The many residents who appose this variance are not asking for anything beyond the County’s own laws. Why is this an issue? While growth is inevitable, we only ask that the Board follow existing laws that have been created to minimize impact to ground water issues and safely to both humans and the environment. Finally, has anyone asked the NC Department of Natural Resources whether the area adjacent to this proposed development whether the Creek and low-laying area could be designated a protected area? I for one will be looking into it. I am a scientist and their analysis presented at the Board meeting would not come close to acceptable peer review.

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