The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners is back to seven members after Tim Moffitt was officially sworn in Tuesday, June 7, to replace Miranda DeBruhl, who abruptly resigned last month. Moffitt said, “It’s an honor to serve with you, and I look forward to contributing where I can.” The meeting also featured members of the public expressing concerns about rezoning a parcel of land in East Asheville and continued budget talks ahead of a June 30 deadline to approve a spending plan for fiscal year 2017.
Some residents of an East Asheville community near Interstate 240 and Tunnel Road are worried a proposed development will change the nature of their neighborhood. At issue is a 38.88-acre parcel that Arlington Properties aims to turn into a high-density development via a proposed apartment complex. The first step in that process is having the land rezoned from the existing R-1 classification to R-2, allowing for a higher density of development.
Five people spoke out against the rezoning, citing reasons such as erosion, steep-slope development, increased traffic and crime, loss of wildlife and an overall worry it would change the nature and aesthetic of the community. Robert Moore, a resident of nearby Pine Cliff Condominiums, said, “We understand the logic behind some additional housing going on the property, but we are concerned about the density of the housing, preservation of the natural environment so erosion problems do not become an issue. … We would hope the developers of the property would maintain the tree cover to the greatest extent possible. This is essential for the beauty of Asheville as well. … Those are the reasons people come to Asheville.”
Anne Serpa, another resident of Pine Cliff Condominiums, is worried a proposed 200-unit apartment complex will be a detriment to the neighborhood’s safety. “I lived in Raleigh and did not like it. I moved to the mountains, to a smaller city, because I like the lifestyle. … My concern is crime. … The larger number of people you have, the higher rate of crime. We have not heard anything about what level of income that [developers] plan on [renting to]. So I’m very concerned about crime. The rate of crime in Asheville seems to be going up,” she said.
Meanwhile, a representative of Arlington Properties said the development is in character with the requested R-2 rezoning and tried to ease concerns about keeping the nature of the community intact. Chris Day, with Civil Design Concept, said, “We are seeking an R-2 zoning for this property so we can do a planned unit development, which allows us to cluster the development to the lower portion of the site.” He noted Arlington Properties is looking to develop about 8-12 acres on the lower elevation. “That will allow 17-20 acres on the steeper portions of the cite to remain undisturbed and in their existing state.”
Commissioner Holly Jones acknowledged the concerns of the public but countered that commissioners were only looking to see if the land was consistent with the spirit of the proposed rezoning. “Concerns about traffic, erosion … will be vetted at the Board of Adjustment. I would encourage citizens concerned about soil stability and road conditions to show up at future meetings,” she said, also telling developers she hopes the plans include options for workforce housing.
County commissioners unanimously approved the rezoning. Developers will now have to get approval for a planned unit development from the Board of Adjustment. You can read county staff’s assessment of the rezoning here.
Commissioners held their public input session on the budget and received a brief update from County Manager Wanda Greene. During last week’s meeting, commissioners requested more information about providing local supplements for Buncombe County Schools teachers and for further detail concerning teaching assistants making a living wage. Greene said she is working with BCS representatives on the issue, but all the necessary information is not yet available. Commissioners will look at both issues before ultimately approving a budget.
The public had its chance to weigh in on the proposed spending plan. and three people voiced concern over teacher pay, including Elliot Lunsford, who has been teaching at Owen High School for nine years. “In order for me to earn approximately the same local supplement as a teacher in Henderson County, I would have to teach for an additional seven years. As many teachers consider leaving the county, or the profession altogether, an increase in supplement would be an extra incentive to stay. We didn’t become teachers for the money, but our pay should reflect our expertise and our value,” he said, also noting he works a second job.
Commissioner Chair David Gantt responded, “Bless you, Mr. Lunsford, for being a teacher. This board is committed to doing all we can.”
As of now, commissioners are slated to vote on the proposed budget on June 21, but they can delay a vote until June 30 to iron out any wrinkles, such as boosting the local supplement and teacher assistant pay.
In all, about seven people spoke about the budget, with comments ranging from concerns about property taxes to asking for funding for the Asheville Museum of Science (formerly Colburn Earth Science Museum). AMS made two funding requests, to the tune of $175,000, that commissioners do not have in the proposed budget.
However, commissioners will take more public input on all community-based economic development initiatives they plan on funding, due to a state law. In all, there will be 13 public hearings concerning funding requests when commissioners next meet on Tuesday, June 21.