Master plans for 23 developments slid in under the wire before the county’s new slope ordinance took effect July 1, and unhappy county residents took issue with two of them at the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners’ Aug. 1 meeting.
“We’ve got a number of these, and we’re just sorting through them and trying to get them to the Planning Board,” Planning and Development Director Jon Creighton told the commissioners. Subdivisions involving more than 10 lots must be approved by the Planning Board; the Planning Department handles those with up to 10 lots.
One proposal, which would carve out a large subdivision on a steep cove in Weaverville, sparked concerns among both commissioners and members of the public.
Planned for an area off Dula Springs Road near Weaverville, developer Manley Nelson‘s Brittain Knob project would include 123 lots on 279 acres. Some slopes in the parcel are nearly 40 percent, and the average slope exceeds 25 percent, said Creighton. The new regulations would have cut the number of buildable lots at the site in half, Creighton said.
Neighbors, who turned out in force for a public hearing before the commissioners’ meeting, say there’s ample reason for the county to veto the project. It would deplete the water table along an already dry ridge, they say, exacerbate erosion and cause landslides, dump congestion onto roads already clogged with traffic, and create a maze of steep new roads hard for emergency vehicles to negotiate. Last week, they hand-delivered a petition signed by 128 Brittain Cove residents, outlining their concerns.
“This is an end run around your slope ordinance,” proclaimed Claudine Cremer, who lives near the proposed site. “I call on you to stop this abuse, because that’s what this is.”
Vice Chairman Bill Stanley agreed. “They sent this in just to beat our new ridgeline [ordinance],” he fumed. “That really upsets me; that’s plain conniving.”
The Planning Board, said Creighton, would get its first look at the master plan during its Aug. 7 meeting. And the developer will have to get past at least one major hurdle in order to move forward with the project.
The legality of the proposed access to the property is in question. Cove residents have opinions from three attorneys saying a 1984 right of way off Britten Cove Road is invalid, because the required improvements were never made. Furthermore, the existing gravel road is only 10 feet wide; the county’s subdivision ordinance requires a 20-foot access, according to Creighton. To build Brittain Knob as planned, the developer would need a variance.
Even apart from the legal concerns, getting a variance of that magnitude is a tall order, he told the commissioners. In the past, he noted, “The Planning Board … has been fairly strict with developers, [saying], ‘Don’t come back and ask for a bunch of variances.'” In addition, the gravel drive is hemmed in by a stream, which could complicate efforts to widen the roadway.
A dozen Britten Cove residents spoke at the meeting, and the commissioners assured them their concerns were being heard. “You have rights, and we’re going to make sure they’re enforced. … We’re very interested in making sure that the right thing is done so that your quality of life is not destroyed,” declared Commissioner David Gantt. Board Chairman Nathan Ramsey seconded Gantt’s concern, saying he planned to travel to the site Thursday to have a look-see.
Another large proposed development, slated for Wolfe Cove (northeast of Asheville), prompted similar concerns from residents, suggesting that the issue of mountainside development is heating up countywide. (See “Bartram’s What?” pg. 8.)
Wolfe Cove Road resident Catherine Ball made an impassioned and sometimes tearful plea. “This is my family land,” she said. “If 117 homes go up on the side of Town Mountain and Wolfe Cove there, how long do you think it will be before the city of Asheville decides to annex? And what do you think that will do to my property values? I’m going to be taxed out of being able to live on my family land. It’s happening all over Buncombe County.”
One of the few items on the commissioners’ agenda was a briefing by Buncombe County Tax Administrator Gary Roberts concerning collections. As of June 30, the county had taken in 99.42 percent of last year’s property taxes and 93.78 percent of motor-vehicle taxes, for a combined total of 98.9 percent. The statewide collections average is 97.04 percent, Roberts pointed out. Among counties with comparable populations, Buncombe ranks first in the state in this regard. Roberts credited improved communication with county residents — including bigger print on invoices to make it easier for seniors to read their bills — with helping make this happen.
“The higher the collections rate, ultimately the lower taxes need to be,” Chairman Ramsey declared, thanking Jackson for his department’s hard work.
But county resident Jerry Rice, who attends commissioners’ meetings faithfully, greeted Ramsey’s assertion with a muttered, “That’s a joke.”
The total amount of uncollected property taxes dating back to 1989 hovers at a little more than $80,000, said Roberts.
Rock the house
In a surprise addition to the board’s “new business” agenda, the commissioners voiced their support for state acquisition of Chimney Rock Park. Fourth-generation owner Todd Morse has put the Rutherford County attraction up for sale for $55 million. The commissioners unanimously agreed to draft a letter supporting Lake Lure Mayor Jim Proctor‘s plea that the state buy the property. Chairman Ramsey urged a strongly worded statement, saying, “Let’s amend it to say ‘use all possible efforts.'”
And lest the specter of slope development at Chimney Rock be overlooked, Don Yelton, a frequent source of public comment at Board of Commissioners meetings, observed, “There are million-dollar views down there.”
The board moved quickly through a list of appointments: Rick Guthy and Neal Hanks (reappointment) to the Economic Development Commission; Jo Yates, Sarah Riddle, Lori Webster, Jeremy Sheridan and Linda Levi to the Nursing Home Community Advisory Committee; Jackson Bebber to the Historic Resources Commission; Heather Nelson to the Women’s Commission; Adam Pittman to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board; Ron King, Oralene Simmons and Todd Maxwell to Community Action Opportunities’ board of directors; and Doris Deaver-Williams to the loneliest job of all — Abandoned Cemeteries Board of Trustees.
The commissioners then went into closed session to consider two economic-development matters, a potential property acquistion, personnel matters and a lawsuit (City of Asheville v. Wake County).