“What have you learned from the people of this neighborhood tonight?” asked one Asheville resident at a May 26 meeting, as she stood before a panel of representatives from Regional Recycling Solutions.
“Well, I’ve learned we have some homework to do,” replied Ken Allison, whose company plans to build a recycling facility on a Pond Road property. “I’ve learned we have a big traffic problem. Is [traffic] the No. 1 concern?”
The crowd of more than 100 shouted back, “We just don’t want it! We don’t want a recycling facility” in our neighborhood.
Earlier this year, RRS, partnering with German-based engineering company Stadler, signed an option to purchase a 53-acre tract of land on Pond Road in Buncombe County, just south of the interstates 40 and 26 junction. The company has been planning to build a regional center in the area for the last two years designed on European waste management standards, with the goal of bringing cleaner practices to this side of the Atlantic.
“In Europe, they have a zero-waste [initiative],” Allison told Xpress after the meeting. Europe is trying to distance itself from reliance on landfills, he said, and nearly everything is either recycled or burned for energy. “In America, we have big, open spaces — a lot of room for a lot of landfills. But in Europe, everything is more compact. They’re under a lot of pressure to do more recycling.”
Unlike Curbside Management in Woodfin, which Allison explains is a single-stream facility — getting its recyclables from a single source — RRS would receive materials from sources other than the blue containers left outside residential homes and city sidewalks.
“[Curbie] processes recyclables that have already been separated from someone’s home or business,” he continues. “My plan is a multistream recycling center [that] can do the kind of separation that doesn’t happen at home.”
What he means is commercial recycling — from factories, businesses, industry and the like, as long as the materials are brought dry to the facility, which will have the ability to separate nonrecyclable from recyclable materials. The facility would not, however, be a drop-off location.
His plans include taking the extra step to ensure the facility creates as little environmental impact as possible. As far as noise is concerned, Stadler America sales director Gerben Nijland explained that the facility would be practically silent outside — and even inside, the machinery will be so quiet that there will be no regulations requiring workers to wear protective gear on their ears. For cleanliness and odors, the facility will use state-of-the-art odor neutralizers and an air-cleansing system that will give on-ground “manual workers a cleaner work environment than their manager in his office upstairs,” Nijland said.
The property, under current “employment district” zoning, can house offices, industry, storage, warehousing or wholesale trade.
To blend into its rural community, Allison said the team plans to build a row of evergreens to shield the main facility from the road. Only the facility’s educational building will be visible, Allison said, which the team plans to let the community use for meetings and recycling education.
Though the RRS partners initially intended to build the first facility in the United States using 100 percent European technology, the facility’s lengthy planning period will make it the third of its kind, if approved, behind a new center in Lawrence, Kan., and another that will open this month in Baltimore.
“Landfilling is eventually going to go by the wayside, as soon as more of these plants are built,” Allison told Xpress. “We have a lot of volume to tackle, but it’s a big, big job. And this is a great start.”
But at a Tuesday, May 26, neighborhood meeting, organized by partners of RRS, the conversation quickly shifted from, “How can we be good neighbors?” to “The neighbors don’t want us at all.”
The meeting was designed to give Pond Road residents a chance to meet RRS, ask questions and address concerns. But it became clear right from the start that the residents were not happy about RSS’ plans.
Concerns ranged from unaddressed traffic issues — such as the sharp curves on Pond Road that could potentially cause collisions between residents and trucks — to a decline in property values.
When Allison expressed that he believes RSS’ facility would look better than the existing commercial structures along the road, residents shouted back, “Nothing is better!” “We like farmland!” “That’s what we’re happy with.”
Resident Larry Harwood has lived on Pond Road for 41 years and remembers back before the road was paved. After being paved, he said, the road “turned into a speedway. These big trucks cannot maneuver these curves. You meet a truck on a curve, and you’re in big trouble.”
At this statement, the roomful of residents applauded.
“That road was just not designed for tractor-trailers,” he continued. “Ain’t no way.”
Another resident stood up and agreed: “If I gave all four of you trucks, set them on opposite ends of Pond Road and said, ‘Go’ — and you pass one another on that road curve unscathed, we’ll all bow down to your future facility.
“I know your intentions are good, and I can understand that,” he continued. “But good intentions are not going to bring those lives back if they collide with one of those trucks.”
Nancy Polansky gave the RRS team some insight into the neighborhood’s past: “This might be a great facility; you’re just putting it in a terrible place. This area has had some bad experiences with open recycling and waste that we’ve been fighting for years, so you stepped right into the middle of problems we’ve had before.”
Jim Coddington lives right above the proposed site. “I’m your next-door neighbor,” he said. “Are you going to be a good neighbor to me? I own 46 acres right above you. My home is 400 feet from his property line. You can have the most beautiful facility in the world, but you’ll destroy my property. Are you going to be a good neighbor about that?”
Toward the end of the meeting, Allison admitted, “We didn’t think there would be this much concern.”
The room erupted in reply: “What universe do you live in?” “That is unreal!” “Put it in your own backyard!”
But Deborah Tatko reminded residents that, though they may not like it, at least RRS took the initiative to hold a community meeting. “I don’t live on Pond Road,” she stated. “But I came here [after hearing] the WLOS story that all my recycling is going into a landfill, and I wanted to find out who you were. My questions were all answered — noise, dust, appearance — but who you are is a big part.
“Pond Road may not be the place for this,” she said, turning to face the roomful of residents. “I’m listening to all of you, and I totally understand that. … But since it was [RRS’] choice to hold this meeting, I see that [they] are at least listening to the community.”
Tatko then told a story from her past: 20 years ago in her town in New York, the residents took issue with a proposed, locally owned business near their homes. The residents ran the business away, but because of the zoning, a national waste company decided to build on that spot instead. “They came in and did whatever they damn well pleased. I’m just bringing that to the light. This may not be the place for [RRS]. However, something else could go in [and that business may] not listen to you. You can go harass him in person,” she said, pointing to the four partners at the front of the room. “But you cannot go to Waste Management and have them care about plastic bags on your lawn.”
After the meeting, Allison told Xpress that he was surprised by the reaction, but that, based on the residents’ concerns, he and his team will explore ways to make it work. “Meetings like that are always good. You find out what they’re experiencing and what their concerns are, to find a way to help.
“I think that what we have to do is take a practical approach and see what can be done, addressing as many concerns as we can,” he continued. “You can never please 100 percent of people on anything, but we can go a long way now that we know the issues.”
RRS partners convened the weekend after the community meeting to explore different solutions to the neighborhood’s concerns. Xpress will provide updates when new information becomes available. The Buncombe County Board of Adjustment will hear RRS’ plans for the site and vote whether to approve the company’s conditional use permit on Wednesday, July 8, at noon.