Mixed-use development could come to Ferry Road

Ferry Road concept plan by Equinox Environmental
A NEW PLAN: Equinox Environmental offered several development concepts for the 137-acre Ferry Road site owned by Buncombe County. The property has been slated for a number of now-abandoned projects over the past two decades. Graphic courtesy of Buncombe County

A 137-acre tract of county-owned property on Ferry Road near Bent Creek is a step closer to development following a Sept. 7 discussion by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners. Board members reacted favorably to a presentation by Kim Williams, a consultant with Asheville-based Equinox Environmental, regarding plans that would bring a mix of recreational, housing and commercial uses to the land.

Williams presented five scenarios for the site, ranging from a low-density, recreation-focused community to a “small commercial or business park.” While the commissioners did not make a formal commitment to any plan, several board members expressed a desire for denser development focused on housing.

“A big part of me is just like, ‘Leave this place alone. Just build trails and leave it alone,’” said board Chair Brownie Newman. “If we didn’t have an affordable housing crisis, that’s exactly what I would want to do there, but we do have an affordable housing crisis. … I want to get as much affordable housing value out of that land that’s going to be converted from natural to developed as possible.”

Commissioners Amanda Edwards and Parker Sloan were particularly supportive of “missing middle” housing on the property. They suggested that such a development pattern, which focuses on small-scale multifamily options like duplexes and fourplexes instead of large apartment buildings, could help residents build wealth through ownership while also increasing density.

That approach would significantly differ from previous proposals for the site, which has had a tangled history of abandoned plans over the past two decades. Options have included a 416-unit subdivision with 188 single-family homes, a production facility for Oregon-based Deschutes Brewery and a treatment plant for Henderson County’s sewage.

At their next meeting of Tuesday, Sept. 21, board members are expected to vote on authorizing an additional $90,000 for Equinox to conduct community engagement and refine the development plan based on that input. The consultancy’s work to date has cost the county about $60,000, according to a contract approved March 2.

COVID-19 vaccine incentives extended through October

Buncombe residents over the age of 18 who haven’t yet gotten a COVID-19 vaccination will have extra time to receive $100 along with the shot. Board members unanimously voted to approve $100,000 to extend a vaccine incentive program, currently funded by the state of North Carolina and slated to expire Monday, Sept. 13, for an additional month.

Stacie Saunders, the county’s public health director, said Sept. 7 that 860 people had received their first vaccination and a $100 incentive card since the program’s start Aug. 4. Another 120 people had received a $25 incentive card for providing transportation to someone getting their vaccine. She noted that vaccination rates had increased twofold since incentives were made available.

As of Sept. 8, 61% of the county’s population was fully vaccinated, exceeding the statewide average of 51%. But commissioners were eager to boost that number even higher, with proposals including vaccine incentives for children 12-18, a monthlong media campaign promoting vaccination and additional outreach at local schools.

And Sloan floated the idea of a resolution that would formally request Mission Health, Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools — three of the county’s largest employers — to implement vaccination requirements for their workers. (County government employees, with the exception of those under the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office, are required to be vaccinated or submit weekly COVID-19 tests.) None of Sloan’s colleagues commented directly on his proposal.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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8 thoughts on “Mixed-use development could come to Ferry Road

  1. dyfed

    I have no idea why we are paying consultants to tell us what to do with publicly owned land that we want to ultimately end in private hands. Put out an RFP, for Pete’s sake, and let private developers spend their own money on figuring out a financially feasible plan that meets the county’s desires. Then sell the land contingent on the accepted proposal being followed! Good Lord.

    • luther blissett

      Once again, we agree: this should be a core competency, and you shouldn’t outsource your core competencies.

      The trend of relying on consultants dates back a few decades, and I think it leads to the general terror of municipal leaders (especially on the liberal side) towards making decisions within the scope of their legally-mandated powers. It’s like how officials in sports change the way they make calls on the field when everything goes to video review. Asheville and Buncombe’s leadership is especially bad at this.

      There is a sliver of an argument that the RFP process sets up situations where local government can be rolled: the RADTIP contracting process felt like a stitch-up where the city had its hand forced by the deadline to gain additional federal funding. That just means elected leaders have to avoid situations where they can be squeezed and have the guts to use the powers at their disposal.

      • dyfed

        I’d say that is the nature of local interaction with federal and state giveaways, rather than the RFP process. Yes, RFPs have a tendency to get drawn out especially if you don’t have clear requirements for what you want—or you don’t really know what you want. But is an initial consultancy period likely to cut down on that? I don’t have like an observational study on this but my instinct is no. In a situation like this one where AFAIK the county is not looking to cash in, they are easily able to deem-unawardable and sit on the property until they can dream up a more fanciful RFP that satisfies all stakeholders… or a more realistic one that actually gets competition.

        • luther blissett

          The RADTIP situation, if I remember correctly, was that the general contractor who was paid by the city to help spec out the RFP and estimate the cost then put in a proposal well above that estimate. Since no other general contractor put in a lower bid, state law put City Council in a position where they had to accept it before the contingent federal funding went away or abandon the project entirely. (Eventually the TDA’s capital projects fund filled in some of the gap.) I’m not going to say it was a stitch-up but it looked a lot like a stitch-up. Different situation, but proof of how relying on outside assistance can bite you in the soft bits.

          So we’re not disagreeing here. The write-offs and spreadsheeting around that Ferry Road parcel were sorted out soon after Deschutes demurred. (The Roanoke brewery never got built. They do have a tasting room there.) It’s absurd to throw money at consultants to come up with lovely fluffy plans that give the commissioners a warm feeling but will never actually be built. If you’re going to hire outside help because you’ve outsourced your core competencies then do it after you’ve put out the RFPs and got some proposals back.

  2. Taxpayer

    Buncombe County and City of Asheville – a golden haven for consultants everywhere. Tell me again why we have a large (and in some cases highly paid) city and county staff but constantly hire consultants? Aren’t we hiring consultants to decide how to manage reparations? lol Garbage and buses are already outside companies. What’s next? Who else can we pay?

  3. WNC

    I have heard it said some people consider an expert to be a person from more than 50 miles away with a briefcase.

    • Enlightened Enigma

      yes, that is related to the collective LOW IQs and ignorance from within …

  4. Dean Blair

    As a resident of this specific area for nearly 50 years, I can assure you that Ferry Rd can not handle the amount of traffic this project will require, either during construction or upon completion. During snow, vehicles stack up like a junkyard on its blind curve. Further, the proposal to make Dry Ferry Rd one-way is one without thorough thought. It is impossible for construction vehicles or large trucks to turn right on the one-lane concrete bridge. It was significantly damaged recently by a delivery truck attempting to execute a right turn there. And…speaking of core competencies, when did Buncombe County obtain residential and commercial development expertise? Open this up to a developer who will generate not only a satisfactory outcome but an ROI for the county and a perineal tax base.

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