The auditorium at North Buncombe Middle School holds a little more than 400 people. And when the Buncombe County Board of Adjustment meets there on May 14 to consider a concrete plant proposed for Murphy Hill Road, the folks opposing the idea will try to fill every seat.
“I get the sense there’s going to be a really big turnout for this one,” says Weaverville resident Anne-Marie Dany, who hosts the Web site myweaverville.com. An anxious buzz of phone calls and e-mails has continued, both around town and in north Buncombe County, since the last hearing was abruptly ended on a technicality, she reports.
“They are chomping at the bit to have this go somewhere,” says Dany. “They are really ready for something to happen, to know where we go next.”
More than 150 people showed up for a March 12 conditional-use hearing for Blue Ridge Concrete, which wants to site a new concrete plant near the intersection of Murphy Hill Road and the Old Mars Hill Highway. That hearing was adjourned after attorney Chris Ramsey, whose mother lives near the site, pointed out that written notices about the hearing had not been mailed the required 10 days before. Opponents of the plant were also miffed that the county had scheduled the hearing in a room holding less than 70 people while a line of residents stretched around the corner of the building.
Immediately afterward, county officials began seeking a larger venue. This time, the hearing will be held at North Buncombe Middle School starting at 5:30 p.m., when fewer people would have to skip work to attend.
Meanwhile, in late March, an attorney for Blue Ridge Concrete filed a writ of mandamus, attempting to force the hearing to be held sooner, but it was turned down in court, says county Zoning Administrator Jim Coman. “Because of the notification requirement, [the judge] really didn’t have any choice.”
“Everybody’s happy about [the larger venue], and word has spread around,” says Martha Claxton, a principal organizer of the North Buncombe Association of Concerned Citizens. “At least they don’t have to stand in the cold for hours and never be let in.”
And though she’s had to wait two months for the rescheduled hearing, Claxton, who owns the neighboring Claxton Farms, says she can handle a long fight. After all, an earlier incarnation of her group fought an extended court battle over the proposed Vulcan Quarry that dragged on from 1985 until 1997. That fight, says Claxton, showed that north Buncombe residents were a “tenacious community that never gave up.” (The quarry eventually withdrew its proposal.)
I gotta testify
According to Blue Ridge Concrete attorney Brian Gulden, the property is “a great site to locate the plant.” And in the previous hearing, owner Mark Turner and his colleagues said that dust and water from the manufacturing process would be carefully controlled. State regulations, said Turner, also dictate how the company handles wastewater from washing the trucks.
In addition, Turner vouched for the safety records of drivers at his plants in Knoxville, Tenn., and Savannah and Macon, Ga.
Nonetheless, truck traffic is one of plant opponents’ key concerns. Four schools—North Buncombe Elementary, North Buncombe Middle, North Buncombe High and a private Baptist school—are in the vicinity, resulting in heavy school-bus traffic. Trucks leaving the site would have to turn right onto Murphy Hill Road, then left across Old Mars Hill Highway in order to access I-26. With six trucks at the plant, Turner estimates 43 arrivals and departures between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. every day.
That kind of traffic is a problem, argues longtime resident Artie Keith, who’s lived on the hill overlooking the proposed site since 1946. She’s watched traffic gradually increase on Murphy Hill Road—a curvy two-laner—and even now, she says, trucks are having problems staying in their lanes.
“When they come through here,” says Keith, “They are way over in the other lane.” And when a school bus comes down the road, oncoming cars sometimes have to steer onto the gravel shoulder, she adds. Nonetheless, the state Department of Transportation has rated the road appropriate for the truck traffic, according to an engineer for Blue Ridge Concrete.
Back in March, the company spent about an hour making its case for the plant, bringing in engineers and real-estate brokers to testify to the its low impact on property values. Due to a screen of trees, noted one designer, the only visible part of the plant would be the silo. Another pointed out that noise should not be a concern, since Interstate 26 already generates a good deal of it.
Because the March meeting was adjourned, Blue Ridge Concrete will have a chance to make its full case once again. And assuming that no further technicalities stall the proceedings, so will the plant’s opponents—most likely in far greater numbers than the two who spoke in March before the hearing was halted.
Attorney Gary Davis, who will represent the North Buncombe Association of Concerned Citizens at the May hearing, declined to discuss his strategy, saying only that the burden of proof falls on Blue Ridge Concrete to show that the plant will not adversely affect health or safety or be detrimental to property values.
Blue Ridge Concrete, which owns the property, has maintained that truck traffic, runoff and dust can all be controlled to keep the impacts on neighbors to a minimum. (Owner Mark Turner did not return phone calls from Xpress relating to this article.)
In the interim, both sides have been marshaling their forces, and Claxton says each group will bring its A-team for the next chapter in the concrete-plant saga.
“They are getting revved up,” says Claxton, “but we’ll rev up too.”