In a move one county resident in attendance called “worthy of a hallelujah chorus,” the Buncombe County Planning Board approved a zoning amendment on Feb. 19 that would require developers to submit a traffic impact study if they are seeking approval for a development with more than 75 residential units.
The amendment was approved in a 5-2 vote, with board members Billy Taylor and Dusty Pless voting against it. The proposed change will now go to the county Board of Commissioners for a final decision.
County staff recommended the change after noticing that the Board of Adjustment had developed a habit of delaying its decisions on apartment complexes until the developers came back with a traffic study.
“They’ve not felt comfortable,” said interim Planning Director Nathan Pennington. “We’d like to give them some tools, some more information to help them make informed decisions.”
Pennington said the 75-unit threshold is more restrictive than the requirements established by the North Carolina Department of Transportation, which requires a traffic study for residential developments with more than 300 units.
Asheville, according to the city’s code of ordinances, requires a traffic study for all construction that would result in greater than or equal to 100 trips during peak hours of the day (7 a.m.-9 a.m. and 4 p.m.-6 p.m.).
Several board members expressed strong support for the measure — especially because traffic has been such a consistent concern over the years. “When I interviewed with county commissioners to be part of this board, they told me that they expect this board to bring to them the concerns of the community,” said board member Nancy Waldrop. “I think as a board if we don’t do that, then we are neglecting our responsibility.”
Room for more
Local residents who attended the meeting applauded the proposed change, but they also had several suggestions. “It’s my hope … that you will also put a provision in that modification that will allow residents a reasonable amount of time to review the traffic impact study,” said Carter Webb, who spoke during the public comment period of the meeting.
Marilyn Ball echoed Webb’s suggestion. She lives close to the future site of a controversial 296-unit apartment complex off Aiken Road, a project that members of the Board of Adjustment approved on Dec. 13. In November, the board had asked the developer, Hathaway Development, to complete a traffic study in response to an avalanche of concern expressed by nearby residents.
In between those two meetings, Ball said her neighborhood raised more than $6,000 to hire a lawyer. “Our reasoning for getting an attorney was to be able to review that traffic study and have a comparable debate and discussion and dialogue about that,” she said.
This, Ball said, didn’t happen. On Dec. 13, attorney Meghann Burke asked members of the Board of Adjustment for more time to review the study, which Burke said she had received that morning. At that time, the board denied her request in a vote of 4-1.
Pat Deck lives off of Sweeten Creek Road in South Asheville and encouraged the county to help facilitate meetings between neighborhoods and developers. “I keep reminding all of my neighbors, ‘We came here, so we’re a part of this traffic situation,’” she said. “But we also want to be a part of the solutions.”
So far, Deck said, meetings that have occurred between residents and developers in South Asheville have helped the two sides find common ground. “They want to hear from us about what they can do to help mitigate traffic,” she said. “They want hear from us about our suggestions for the kinds of things that they can do to make the development more desirable for the community, so we’re really starting to think differently about how we as neighborhoods work with developers.”
Donna Ensley also lives in South Asheville and is used to spending plenty of time — particularly on Friday afternoons — sitting in a slow-moving row of vehicles. She expressed concern about how the rapid growth in residential developments would impact schools. “Where are these people that move here, where are they going to be able to go to school?” Ensley said. “When you add 600 units, I don’t believe Avery Creek Elementary is going to be able to handle all the children.”
Pless, who served on the Buncombe County School Board for 16 years, indicated that this probably wouldn’t be too much of a problem. He said near the end of his tenure on the school board, members were concerned that three incoming residential developments would have a significant impact on nearby schools. “We gained 10 children out of those three developments,” he said. “That was all. … The concerns and fears — they never materialized.”
In other business
Board members unanimously approved revisions and updates to the zoning ordinance’s parking table, which lists minimum parking requirements for buildings based on their use. County Planner Debbie Truempy says the table hasn’t been revised since the early 1980s. “Currently, there are use names that don’t match any use in the permitted use table,” she said. “There are outdated uses like sanitariums and tourist courts. … Also, there’s no process if there’s no use in the table that matches what’s being proposed.”
It’s also caused some confusion. Recently, an individual seeking to build an 18-hole miniature golf course in the county learned that he would need to put in about 300 parking spaces to meet the requirements of the parking table.
The proposed change will now go the county Board of Commissioners, which will deliver a final vote.