Pinners Cove residents blast process for proposed development

Tractor-trailer on Pinners Cove Road
TRAFFIC JAM: Tractor-trailers are often directed to Pinners Cove Road by their navigation systems, even though county signs instruct them not to use it. According to residents of Pinners Cove, it often takes hours to remove these trucks, which can completely block both lanes. Photo courtesy of Chloette Kuhlman

When Minneapolis-based developer KLP Pinners EAT LLC applied to rezone 73 acres for a mountaintop development near Pinners Cove Road last December, it was not prepared for the community pushback. Led by 30-year resident Scott Kuhlman, neighbors of the property formed the Say No to Pinners Cove Rezoning group and got to work. They collected hundreds of signatures on an online petition against the project, displayed yard signs and even purchased a billboard.

When the rezoning application came before the Buncombe County Planning Board Jan. 24, over 40 residents had already submitted written public comments, and roughly the same number voiced their opposition during the meeting itself. Concerns focused on the lack of available infrastructure to support a large development, environmental damage from erosion and loss of the area’s rural character.

The Planning Board subsequently voted 7-1 not to recommend the rezoning to the county Board of Commissioners, and the developers pulled their request before the commissioners could consider it.

“We were thrilled, but we knew that this developer was going to figure out [an]other approach,” says resident Mignon Durham, one of the most vocal opponents of the development.

In May, KLP filed a new application for the same 176-acre property ( This time, instead of a rezoning request that would have to be approved by the Board of Commissioners, the company submitted a site plan for a 269-unit major subdivision over 90 acres. Major subdivision plans are created in conjunction with the Buncombe County Planning & Development Department using the guidelines of the county’s Land Development and Subdivision Ordinance — an administrative process with no avenue for public input.

According to Nathan Pennington, Buncombe County’s planning director, county planners receive 15-20 such subdivision applications every year and review their technical specifications for compliance with county rules. “If the application meets the standards, then permits are issued,” he says.

Despite the new process, the Pinners Cove residents say they have no intention of backing down. “Transparency is really important, and I don’t feel like we’re getting it on this particular development,” Durham says.

Mountaintop moves

As an example of a process he feels is taking place behind the scenes, Kuhlman points to a series of emails between Buncombe staffers and representatives of the project. He only obtained the information after submitting a public records request to the county.

The conversations show county planner Gillian Phillips working with developers to determine the best application path for the Pinners Cove project. Initially, KLP had applied for a “conservation easement hillside development subdivision,” which allows for greater housing density on part of a property if the remainder is set aside for conservation under the stewardship of a nonprofit.

But in a set of June 23 emails, a construction firm working with KLP shared that it could not find a nonprofit willing to accept the land. Sunny Beddow, senior counsel for Bloomington, Minn.-based Doran Companies, wrote to Phillips, “it’s too small to interest [any of] them.”

In her reply, Phillips suggested that the developer instead apply for an “alternative path hillside development.” Those rules also allow densely clustered building if 30% of the parcel’s land is set aside for conservation and managed by the development’s homeowners association.

A meeting was scheduled for June 30 involving county staff, Warren Sugg of local engineering firm Civil Design Concepts and staff at Doran, but no further information was included in the email chain. KLP did not respond to requests for comment.

For Pinners Cove residents, finding that so much discussion about the project is happening without their knowledge or input was frustrating. “My problem with development in the county is that it happens in secret,” Durham says. “It [is] very difficult for ordinary citizens to mobilize and get anything accomplished.”

When asked about changes to the transparency of Buncombe’s development process, Pennington says that the county is updating its Accela Citizen Access system to provide more information to the public.

Community conservation

Living in Pinners Cove, Durham says, are people from all walks of life, income brackets and political leanings. What unifies them is the main artery of Pinners Cove Road, which would be one of two access points for the proposed development; the other would be Chapel Hill Road.

Even though tractor-trailers are not permitted on the road, Durham estimates that one gets stuck on a switchback approximately every 10 days after being led there via GPS systems. “This road gets closed for four and five hours at a time, because it takes volunteers to come help get [them] out,” she says.

At the January Planning Board meeting, many residents also expressed concern about the impact of additional traffic on nearby Mills Gap Road and Sweeten Creek Road. Because the N.C. Department of Transportation has pushed back plans to widen Sweeten Creek Road until 2033, they said, additional cars would only aggravate existing congestion problems.

Others are worried about a lack of sewer infrastructure for the proposed project and the potential for heavy storm runoff from the mountain slope. Pinners Cove resident Susan Van Ness says that despite land conservation and stream restoration work in the area, a bridge on Pinners Cove Road over Robinson Creek often floods during heavy rains.  “If the road or bridge are washed out due to flooding, it could potentially eliminate access in and out of this community,” she says.

Those concerns no longer have a dedicated time to be aired before the county Planning Board due to the shift in the developer’s application. Instead, Pinners Cove residents have shifted their focus to Board of Commissioners meetings, where they are raising objections about the county’s subdivision regulations in general. As part of the county’s municipal code, the process to approve major subdivisions can only be changed by the county commissioners.

According to county spokesperson Kassi Day, “The [best] opportunity for the community to effect change would be in the Comprehensive Plan process.” From December through February, she says, the public will have its final opportunity to comment on the draft plan, which will set Buncombe’s strategy for land use and infrastructure over the next 20 years, before it goes to the commissioners.

In the meantime, Say No to Pinners Cove Rezoning will keep speaking out. “A lot of people said, there’s nothing we can do,” Durham says. “Well, I don’t ever buy that.”


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About Sara Murphy
Sara Murphy lives in Leicester. Her work has appeared in 100 Days in Appalachia, Facing South, Polygon, and Lifehacker.

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8 thoughts on “Pinners Cove residents blast process for proposed development

  1. Jonathan Austin

    To me the concern here is that the county agency held the developer’s hand, pointing out how to modify its application in a manner that would get around the public outcry. If the developer doesn’t have an active application on file, then the county should tell them to hire an attorney to figure out what can be done in a different manner. If the developer does have an active application on file, then the county should only address the issues of that application, and not go “what if?” to help the developer out of an uncomfortable situation.

    • pearl2k

      That IS the job of the planning department – to help builders/developers develop land. What did you think they were there for, to obstruct and stop development? Have you read the Unified Development Ordinance? Good luck figuring out what you can and can’t do.

    • dyfed

      Literally their job to help developers navigate the code, interpret guidance, and succeed in submitting conforming plans.

      This is an incredibly revealing comment; really betrays how NIMBYs think.

  2. Soorya Townley

    If we don’t stop most of this new development NOW, it’s going to be too late and we will become another metropolis like Los Angeles. I lived there fifty years ago and watched it slowly destroy itself into what it is now. Crime, drugs, homelessness, fear of walking around at night, etc. Destroying the environments, which kills off natural habitats all comes with the slippery slope of money to the city’s pockets. We must stand up and fight to maintain and sustain the beauty of Asheville.

    • dyfed

      Soorya, Asheville is already struggling with crime and homelessness, and it’s not because there are too many houses. Unless you’re saying anybody too poor to have a house should just be shipped out for another city to deal with?

  3. R.G.

    As the local bond referendums proved, *far more people support Open Spaces* than ‘Affordable’ Housing. What this tells me is that while there may be a desire to add abodes, there are still a great many developments that should be opposed if there isn’t the proper infrastructure and if neighborhoods will be severely and negatively impacted. Anyone (like dyfed above) who uses the N-word in response to every pushback against developers and their attorneys is just being obtuse and should be ignored.

    • dyfed

      It’s just a coincidence that the ‘proper infrastructure’ is never in place, hmm?

      I’m happy to ignore your concerns too. It’s just more excuses to raise the drawbridge behind you.

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