Asheville City Council

A major retirement complex proposed for a site atop Beaucatcher Mountain has stirred skepticism on the part of city staff and mobilized neighborhood opposition.

Kenilworth residents filled the chamber for the Asheville City Council’s Aug. 23 formal session, spilling over into a separate viewing room. The turnout seemed to promise a lengthy public-comment session, but Council postponed consideration of the matter after an attorney representing the developers unsuccessfully challenged a protest petition submitted by concerned neighbors.

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According to the staff report, the project — targeted for 71.2 wooded acres on Beaucatcher Mountain owned by Richard Nailling and Adelaide Key — would include 172 residential units (both condos and townhouses) as well as a nursing facility, a spa, its own post office, a theater, a restaurant and retail stores. A large main structure would be surrounded by four- and five-story buildings, some of which would require a height variance.

Planning staff did not recommend approval of the master plan and requisite rezoning, citing complications related to the development’s size. “There is significant concern that the proposed project, due to its overall scale, could result in a negative impact to adjacent property owners, the Kenilworth neighborhood, and to the larger Asheville community,” the report notes. Other language refers to the structures’ impacts on the ridgeline.

Staff and residents also expressed concern about the impacts of storm-water runoff, tree clearing and blasting associated with the construction, as well as parking and traffic issues. Kenilworth residents say the developers have been evasive in answering questions; the lack of information and limited press coverage, they maintain, have left the public in the dark about a project that will be visible from all over the city.

At press time, Xpress had not obtained a response from the developers, the Charlotte-based Brownlyn Associates.

An unsuccessful challenge

Asheville attorney Albert Sneed, representing Brownlyn, challenged the protest petition. Under state law, a valid petition makes it harder for a proposed development or rezoning to gain approval, requiring a supermajority (in this case, at least six of the seven Council members) instead of just a simple majority.

Citing maps and case law, Sneed took issue with the city’s interpretation of the law, which says that such petitions must be signed by the owners of at least 20 percent of the property within 100 feet of one side of the parcel in question in order to be considered valid. Pointing to an outline of the oddly shaped parcel, Sneed wondered how city staff determines what constitutes a “side.”

“There is no consistency,” he charged. “It is an arbitrary decision by staff.” Neither the developers nor their agent, former city planner Gerald Green, spoke during the meeting.

City Attorney Bob Oast conceded that the state statutes governing such cases are open to interpretation, noting that the General Assembly was considering amending wording. But the city, he maintained, has been consistent in its interpretation of the matter.

“What we do at a staff level is try to make four reasonable, delineated sides,” Oast explained.

Sneed’s arguments did raise concern among Council members, some of whom thought the city’s approach to such cases may need to be revisited and clarified. “This … is not a new issue to Council; it has come up in other land-use issues,” noted Council member Terry Bellamy. But they were reluctant to make changes in the midst of considering a specific proposal, and Bellamy made a motion to validate the protest petition, which Council unanimously approved.

With the project now needing a supermajority to get the go-ahead, Sneed (noting that Council member Holly Jones was absent) asked Council to postpone the discussion until everyone was present. Council members will revisit the issue at the Sept. 27 formal session.

As the crowd funneled out into the hallway, neighbors were optimistic that there would be an even bigger show of opposition next time around.

“It gives the opportunity for the rest of Asheville to hear about this big, secret, ugly block on Beaucatcher Mountain,” Kenilworth resident Miller Graves told Xpress. “I think we’ll probably have twice this many next time.”

That same evening, however, the General Assembly did in fact amend the law, Oast said later. Under the new wording, petitioners will need signatures from the owners of at least 5 percent of all property within 100 feet of the targeted parcel. But because the change does not take effect until next year, it will not affect the proposed project, said Oast.

Tennis, anyone?

Despite scattered opposition, Council approved a budget amendment accepting funds for a new tennis center at Aston Park. The new facility is the first step in the city’s plans to renovate the park, which reverted to the city as part of the dissolution of the Water Agreement. Although there are problems at the park, the clay tennis courts remain popular.

The new construction will be funded by a $260,000 grant from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and matching funds from the Dick and Irene Covington Foundation. Dick Covington, a local tennis enthusiast who died in 1998, designated that part of his estate be used to improve the park.

Opponents of the plan worried that the facility would be vulnerable to break-ins and vandalism. “We have no need to build an attractive nuisance,” Asheville resident Jack Petty told Council.

But Parks and Recreation Director Irby Brinson pressed the point that the project requires no taxpayer dollars.

Several Council members emphasized that despite the Aston Park’s reputation as a gathering place for drug use and transients, the city intends to move forward with improving it.

“We realize we do have a problem down there, but this is such a great project,” noted Council member Joe Dunn.

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