In the zone

A proposed Weaverville shopping center that would include two “big box” stores moved one square forward when the Town Council approved the rezoning of 35 acres of residential property at its Nov. 21 formal session. Six parcels located southwest of the intersection of U.S. 19/23/70 and Weaver Boulevard were designated commercial. The rezoned land adjoins about 55 acres of industrial property on Monticello Road; Charlotte-based developer Harris, Murr & Vermillion has proposed building Northwood Commons, an 86-acre shopping center, on the combined parcels.

The project has sparked vocal citizen concern. Dozens of area residents spoke out about the development at an Oct. 20 public hearing attended by hundreds of people, according to Weaverville resident John Sticpewich. The speakers, he said, were “more or less evenly divided, though I think there were more against than for the project. The ‘for’ people were interested in not having to drive to Asheville to get their hardware.” And about 30 opponents staged what they called “Weaverville’s first demonstration” at the Town Hall before the Nov. 21 meeting. The rain-drenched protesters then joined a standing-room-only crowd of more than 200 for the meeting.

Monticello Road resident Paul Littman told Xpress: “The residential land at stake consists of five large tracts of beautiful, rolling hills. One might wonder why 55 acres, which is already legally buildable as commercial land, is not enough. As a designer with a degree in landscape architecture and three years of professional practice, I believe the proposed development has no consideration or sensitivity to the physical or cultural landscapes of Weaverville.”

Contacted by phone before the meeting, Town Manager Mike Morgan said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would have jurisdiction over any activity involving stream impacts, and Council member Don Hallingse said the development would have to satisfy Buncombe County’s environmental regulations.

But Sticpewich, a downstream neighbor of the development, expressed doubts about how rigorous the environmental oversight might be. “I am not sure how or even if the Corps of Engineers will come into it,” he told Xpress. “The stream running through the property is not the main stream of Gill Branch but an unnamed tributary. The Corps of Engineers only concerns itself with what is done in the floodway of named streams, or so they have told me. Though more active than the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, they are not noted for their energetic pursuit of these problems.”

Northwood Commons would create some 55 acres of impervious surface, including buildings, sidewalks and parking areas, in what is now predominantly woodland.

“The creek cannot be changed or altered,” Hallingse told Xpress. “One thing that any developer has to do, on this or any other project, is to not allow any more water to leave the property at an accelerated rate than now.”

Weaverville Mayor Mary “Bett” Stroud introduced the measure, offering extensive praise for both the plan and the developers. Touting the 1,500 jobs she said would be created and the projected increase in the tax base, Stroud proclaimed, “This would set the standard for beautiful development.”

Vice Mayor Dottie Sherrill made a motion to adopt the zoning changes, and after a quick second from multiple voices, a brief discussion ensued.

Waving a bundle of letters, Council member Marcie Nisbeth said that almost three quarters of the letters, e-mails and phone calls she’d received had supported the development — drawing a mix of derision and cheers from the onlookers. “I have to go with the majority,” said Nisbeth.

But Council member Al Root said: “This is the most difficult issue I have wrestled with in my time on Council. After a lot of thought, I have decided to vote against the rezoning. I believe our existing land-use plan is good; we show development along U.S. 70. I think going back another 30 or 40 acres is not a good plan.”

The measure was approved 4-1, with Root casting the lone dissenting vote.

Small businesses in towns across the country have been significantly affected by the arrival of mega retailers, and Xpress asked several downtown Weaverville shopkeepers how they felt about the proposed development. None was willing to go on the record, however, citing the divisiveness of the issue. “I can’t afford to alienate any of my customers” was a typical response.

As for what happens next, Morgan, the town manager, told Xpress, “Now the developer goes back and develops detailed plans including buildings, parking areas, ingress, egress, erosion control, lighting — all of those details — and that goes before the Board of Adjustment for technical review.”

Monticello Road resident Anna Vogler said: “That means there will be another public hearing and lots more opportunity for people to get involved. Unlike the [Town] Council, the Board of Adjustment must vote based on the information they receive during their public hearing.”

According to the developer, it will take at least a year to prepare plans and move them through the approval process — and then another 18 months to complete construction. Morgan said there’s no way to know when the Board of Adjustment will be presented with plans or will take action on the proposal.

About Cecil Bothwell
A writer for Mountain Xpress since three years before there WAS an MX--back in the days of GreenLine. Former managing editor of the paper, founding editor of the Warren Wilson College environmental journal, Heartstone, member of the national editorial board of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, publisher of Brave Ulysses Books, radio host of "Blows Against the Empire" on WPVM-LP 103.5 FM, co-author of the best selling guide Finding your way in Asheville. Lives with three cats, macs and cacti. His other car is a canoe. Paints, plays music and for the past five years has been researching and soon to publish a critical biography--Billy Graham: Prince of War:

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