A Feb. 6 fly-over compliments of SouthWings—an Asheville-based nonprofit that provides free flights for conservation organizations and members of the media—gave Mountain Xpress a bird’s-eye view of a few development sites in Buncombe and Madison counties that have spurred controversy in recent months. Volunteer Darwin Jones piloted the four-passenger Cessna, and Louise O’Connor of People Advocating Real Conservancy arranged the trip. From the top, the photos show aerial views of the following:
• Richmond Hill Park, a 171-acre wooded property that’s one of Asheville’s biggest green spaces. The park became the center of controversy in late August, when DENR sent the city a notice of violation for erosion problems resulting from poorly planned grading. The Parks and Recreation Department has taken steps to correct the problem, posting regular updates of DENR inspections on the city’s Web site. The dirt patch at the center of the photo was cleared to accommodate parking areas and restrooms. A new National Guard armory will be built in the area visible at the very top of the photo.
• Reynolds Mountain, a 250-acre north Asheville subdivision that will include more than 200 housing units, sits on a ridge overlooking Asheville and the mountains beyond. Local conservation groups fear that this project is the kind of steep-slope development that takes a toll on surrounding communities and ecosystems. Heather Rayburn of the Mountain Voices Alliance, for example, cites “erosion and sedimentation, habitat fragmentation … loss of viewshed and increased traffic” as some of the problems she believes stem from the project.
However, Gerald Green, the development’s environmental consultant, maintains that Reynolds Mountain exceeds erosion-control standards. “The type of cluster development used in our town-home neighborhood, however unattractive during the development stages, has preserved over 30 acres of surrounding pristine wilderness,” he asserts. He adds that after “extensive renaturalization efforts,” Reynolds Mountain will be “a model for sustainable development.”
• Madison County’s Wolf Ridge, a project of developers Rick Bussey and Orville English of B&E Ventures. (The two men also own the Wolf Laurel Ski Resort.) The development, which will span several hundred acres on the steep slopes above the Laurel Valley, will include shops, restaurants and up to 900 housing units; a 3,200-foot landing strip for jets (pictured) is slated for one of the ridges. The developers describe the project as environmentally friendly, citing limits on the number of trees that will be cleared. But the Laurel Valley Watch, a local citizens’ group, has raised concerns about erosion control, potential impacts on waterways, and the overall scope of a project that would build more homes than currently exist in the town of Mars Hill. In December, Laurel Valley Watch and Clean Water for North Carolina, an Asheville nonprofit, challenged a permit issued by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for Wolf Ridge’s sewage-treatment plant, which would discharge 300,000 gallons of treated effluent per day into a small creek that runs into the Laurel River. The groups requested a hearing based on alleged violations of several North Carolina statutes.
For more information on SouthWings, visit www.southwings.org.