When the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved a comprehensive zoning ordinance earlier this year, it did so at the expense of mobile homes.
The ordinance banned manufactured homes from the county’s R-1 (single-family residential) and R-2 higher-density residential) districts, grandfathering existing homes in those areas.
But some residents cried foul, arguing that prohibiting such homes would eliminate affordable housing in an increasingly upscale county. Mobile-home manufacturers also protested the rule.
Apparently, those voices were heard, because at their Oct. 16 meeting, the commissioners backed off, amending the ordinance to allow manufactured homes in both R-1 and R-2 zoning districts—albeit with certain conditions.
To qualify, the homes must be built in accordance with federal standards passed in 1994; must be attached to a permanent foundation; and must be no more than four times as long as they are wide. Homes must also be more than 20 feet wide—effectively ruling out singlewides—and must have a roof pitch that meets the specified standards.
The amendment does not apply to Limestone Township, south of Asheville: Manufactured homes are still prohibited in R-1 and R-2 districts there, because the area already had voluntary zoning restrictions in place.
During board discussion, Vice Chair Carol Peterson said she opposed the amendment, observing, “I think this is too soon into it to make a change.”
“I’ve gotten e-mails from people who want a delay on this vote until it can come to a public hearing,” said Peterson. “These are people who have bought property and want protection for their investment,” she added, suggesting that permitting manufactured homes in those districts might lower property values.
“These happen to be homes that people can afford,” countered Commissioner David Gantt. “People,” he implored, “we’re going to become the Land of the Rich instead of the Land of the Sky.”
Peterson’s objection proved short-lived, however, and after lengthy public comment—much of it from manufactured-housing industry representatives, the board unanimously approved the amendment.
“We see this ordinance being as close to a panacea as we’re going to get,” said Tom Christ, representing the Western Chapter of the North Carolina Manufactured Home Association.
Meanwhile, about a dozen residents who live near the former CTS plant on Mills Gap Road attended the meeting, with several voicing concerns during public comment that county leaders are doing little to get toxic chemicals at the site cleaned up.
Led by Asheville resident Barry Durand, the residents spoke emotionally and at length about the hazards of living so close to the toxic chemicals, the risk of ground-water contamination, and the potential impact on the value and salability of their homes.
“I’m shocked that this blight on Buncombe is still there,” neighbor Bob Aversano told the commissioners. “It’s incumbent on every one of you, as human beings with families, to act. Not from papers or ordinances or resolutions—you must act from your heart. If you don’t, and let this terrible contamination continue, I would consider you evil.”
The commissioners unanimously approved a $20,000 incentive grant for Silver-Line Plastics, a plastic-pipe manufacturer on Riverside Drive. In order to qualify, the company had to make capital improvements and create jobs.
Silver-Line recently completed $3.5 million in upgrades at the plant, which currently employs 200 workers. As part of the deal, the company must pay at least half the cost of the new employees’ health-care coverage.
“We actually provide 100 percent coverage,” noted Chief Financial Officer Bill Beard. Base wages at the plant start at $12 an hour, said Beard, not including health-care coverage or employer contributions to retirement plans.
John O’Neal of GDS, the county’s waste hauler, gave an update on the “blue bag” recycling program. Although the company keeps a watchful eye on its waste handlers, he said, blue bags of recyclables sometimes end up in the landfill. O’Neal urged the county to consider buying reusable, hard-sided recycling bins similar to the ones used by city residents. “It’s a simple matter of spending the money,” he said.
The commissioners took no action on O’Neal’s recommendation but said they would consider it.
The board also heard from UNCA Athletics Director Janet Cone, who asked for $500,000 to help fund renovation of the school’s track.
The $2 million project involves replacing the track and adding a press box, storage, concessions and restrooms to the athletic complex, Cone explained.
“It’s gotten to the point where it’s just not safe,” she said.
“Why not just go to the state, where you get your other funds from, and ask them to help with this project?” asked Commissioner David Young.
“We get no state funding,” Cone replied, adding that the county money would put the school “well on its way” toward making the project happen. The board directed County Manager Wanda Greene to add the request to the county budget, with the understanding that county residents can continue to use the track.
“It’s important, if we put this kind of money into this, that the public be able to use this facility,” noted Gantt.
The commissioners also considered several rezoning requests from county residents unhappy with their property’s zoning under the new ordinance passed in May.
The board approved four of the five requests, turning thumbs down on Florida landowner Thomas Covington‘s plea that his Ridgecrest property be rezoned from low-density residential to the higher-density R-2 classification.
Both county staff and the Planning Board had recommended against the change, Zoning Administrator Jim Coman explained, primarily because of the steepness of the parcel. Access was another concern: “You have to cross a railroad [track] to get to it,” he said.
In other new business, the board heard a $61,000 request from Gary Higgins of the Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District to fund a new staff position. The proposed land-conservation specialist would receive $55,000 a year in salary and benefits; the remainder of the money would pay for office equipment and mileage, said Higgins. The commissioners agreed to add the position as a budget item.
In other land-conservation news, the board heard a presentation from Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy Executive Director Carl Silverstein on the 428-acre Jayne property in the Sandy Mush community, which was recently placed under a conservation easement (see sidebar, “Big Deal in Little Sandy”).
“It’s an incredible privilege to know that the land we bought in 1966 will remain the way it is pretty much forever,” said Sandy Mush Herb Nursery co-owner Kate Jayne.
The board also unanimously approved a land exchange with the Buncombe County Board of Education, trading a nearly 12-acre tract near T.C. Roberson High School, the site of the Skyland pool, for 7.3 acres adjacent to Sand Hill-Venable Elementary and the new county soccer complex. The swap will enable the county to expand its facilities at the latter site, and the county will continue to operate the pool.
The commissioners gave brisk and unanimous approval to a resolution dedicating an estimated $455,000 in annual property-tax revenues from the proposed Ellington hotel/condominium complex in Asheville to a fund for “work-force housing development.” The project’s developers are also contributing a percentage of sales revenue to a separate affordable-housing fund (see “Clear Sailing” elsewhere in this issue).
Shortly before going into closed session in connection with a legal matter, the board voted to reappoint Winnie Ziegler to the Board of Health and to appoint Sandra Abromitis and Michele Littlejohn to the Women’s Commission. The meeting adjourned at 6:45 p.m. The next meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 6, at 4:30 p.m., with public comment beginning at 4 p.m.