When the Buncombe County commissioners passed stricter rules governing development on steep slopes back in March, it triggered an avalanche of proposals by developers. Proposals submitted before July 1 aren’t subject to the new rules, regardless of when the Planning Board actually gets around to evaluating and ruling on them.
Among the 23 last-minute submissions was a plan to develop 289 acres on Whitted Knob (re-christened “Brittains Knob” by the developer), located on Dula Springs Road northeast of Weaverville. The proposal by Ocean Mountain Real Estate, a limited liability company, calls for up to 189 residences on a steep tract owned by Atlanta-based investor James Verbrugge.
Access to the site has proved problematic, however. The developer claims that his title to the property includes rights of way over either or both of two adjacent parcels, owned by Beth Woody and Fran Stroud, but both women have contested this. Woody maintains that there is no legal right of way over her property, and Stroud says the simple easement across her property could accommodate a driveway but not a public road.
Fellow Brittains Cove resident Claudine Cremer raised the right-of-way question at the Board of Commissioners’ Aug. 1 meeting, and Vice Chair Bill Stanley asked Assistant County Attorney Michael Frue for a legal opinion on the matter.
Before Frue could respond, however, Wilder Wadford, the attorney for the developer, asked that the Planning Board table the proposal, slated for consideration at its Aug. 7 meeting. The Planning Board complied, and at press time, the proposal remained tabled.
Asked about the matter, Frue told Xpress: “I have not issued an opinion. Because the developers of Brittains Knob tabled the review of their master plan before the Planning Board [met on] Aug. 7, there was no need to issue an opinion on the right-of-way issue. To date, there have been no further requests from the developer to the Planning Department.”
Cremer maintains that the property is not an appropriate site for the proposed project. “The steep mountainside does not lend itself to development,” she said, wondering, “What level of change in the development plan would be required to invalidate the preliminary approval that was granted before the change in the slope law?”
Asked that question by Xpress, Frue replied: “I do believe that this proposed development comes under [the] new steep-slopes [ordinance], because the current plan does not extend beyond a proposed master plan, which … has yet to be reviewed by the Planning Board. Further, the new storm-water ordinance applies here, because the planning process had not reached the point where it could be exempted from the ordinance as a vested right as of Sept. 27.”
County Zoning Administrator Jim Coman agreed, saying, “That is a determination that the Planning Board will have to make, but I believe Michael Frue is correct.” Coman added: “When one of these projects is tabled like this, you have to wonder if it is going to proceed at all. Meeting all of the new storm-water ordinances will be very difficult in the mountains. It takes a lot of land.”
Both Cremer and Woody have reported that agents for the developer have contacted other owners of adjacent property, seeking another way to access the site.
At press time, Manley Nelson, the registered agent for Ocean Mountain Real Estate, had not returned calls seeking comment on the situation. Calls to Verbrugge and Wadford also went unanswered.