Sales tax, solar farm deal change course; development frustrations arise

TAX TWEAK: The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved changing the intent of a sales tax dedicated for A-B Tech from capital projects to operations and maintenance.
TAX TWEAK: The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved changing the intent of a sales tax dedicated for A-B Tech from capital projects to operations and maintenance. Photo by Clara Murray

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners pivoted a dedicated sales tax and hit the reset button on a deal with Duke Energy during its meeting June 6. Development concerns also took center stage as South Asheville and Ridgecrest residents spoke out against existing and proposed projects.

Frustrating conditions

The open public comment period saw citizens from South Asheville and Ridgecrest asking commissioners for relief from current and planned construction.

Some Ridgecrest residents are upset with a project they say has violated its conditional use permit. The development is on Dixon Drive, at the site of the old Madison Inn, and is called United Life Academy.

“We’ve seen destruction of our neighborhood. It’s a mud pit. The contractor has disrupted sewer, water,” said Ridgecrest resident Jeff Wallace while also stating that a recently repaved road now has potholes due to construction.

Amy Nasta lives next door to the development and bemoans a
lack of transparency. “No one has introduced themselves. We are concerned and left guessing with what’s happening. No one knows what’s going on,” she said.

Xpress reached out to county staff to inquire about the issue. County Planner Debbie Trumpie responded via email: “The developer of the old Madison Inn has strayed from what was approved in the conditional use permit. Building Permits and Zoning have made site visits. The county is working with the developer to get back into compliance or apply for a revised conditional use permit.”

For more information about issues surrounding this development, view Black Mountain News‘ report from April here.

Meanwhile, some South Asheville residents are gearing up to contest a planned apartment complex off Overlook Road. It calls for 231 apartments and 30 townhomes.

Many nearby neighbors are concerned the road is already too dangerous and that adding a project of that density would be a recipe for disaster. “This road has a reputation, and it’s a poor one,” said Overlook Road resident Justin McCleary. He also noted the neighborhood only found out about the proposed development about 10 days ahead of its Board of Adjustment meeting, set for Wednesday, June 14. McCleary implored commissioners to ask for the project’s hearing to be delayed.

Oak Forest resident Shannon Resse said, “We have several concerns. Safety is a main concern. There are no sidewalks … we walk and ride our bikes there. We have had zero opportunity to voice our concerns.”

The size of the project is more than eight buildings and requires a conditional use permit to be designated as a planned unit development.

County staff told Xpress the development’s June 14 Board of Adjustment hearing will not be delayed.

The development frustrations highlight a trend, as last month’s Board of Adjustment meeting was a five-hour affair with a packed room rallying against new construction.

OVERLOOK APARTMENTS
OVERLOOK OVERLOAD: A number of South Asheville residents urged commissioners to delay a hearing, set for June 14, concerning a 221-unit apartment complex on Overlook Road.

Maintaining sales

In 2011, voters approved a referendum for a quarter-cent sales tax that would be dedicated for capital campaign projects. Now, some six years later, the intent of that sales tax is shifting toward maintenance and operations.

Commissioner Mike Fryar said he was in favor of the move, but only as long as the county put Greg Israel, the county’s general services director, in charge of auditing and implementing a maintenance plan. “He needs to have full control, and the college needs to pay him. I’d like to see a three-year contract,” said Fryar, adding that the sales tax revenue would cover the additional pay for Israel.

Commissioner Chair Brownie Newman said he agreed with Fryar’s recommendation. “One thing, as we look at A-B Tech, is they need a high-quality assessment of buildings so we know we are taking care of the buildings,” said Newman.

Commissioner Joe Belcher said pivoting the sales tax is a natural evolution: “I think this addition, long-term, will protect the investment the sales tax was set up for in the first place.”

A-B Tech President Dennis King told Xpress, via email: “So long as the revenue from the sales tax is used exclusively for A-B Tech, I encourage the expanded use of the proceeds for long-term maintenance and operations at the college.”

Commissioners unanimously approved expanding use of the sales tax for A-B Tech maintenance and operations.

Farming out

Last month, commissioners approved moving forward with an agreement for Duke Energy to conduct a feasibility study for a solar farm at the old landfill in Woodfin. Newman, who works in the solar industry, proposed the partnership. However, the move rankled some commissioners and divided votes among Democrats. At issue was whether other potential partners had been properly vetted.

To that end, Newman remarked: “Some questions and concerns were raised. We are making sure this is an opportunity for any company that wants to to do so. We are looking for a partner to handle development process and install and operate the system.”

Newman previously stated, and reiterated, that no solar company he has a financial stake in would be part of the deal.

Duke Energy District Manager Jason Walls said the utility agreed with opening up the process for other companies to apply. “We saw an opportunity to be a partner with the community and submitted an unsolicited bid. The smart and right thing to do was take a step back. What we’ve offered is still good, but if you get a better deal, then please go forward,” he said.

Commissioners unanimously approved opening up a request for proposals. You can view the RFP here. County staff says the application process will be open until Aug. 1.

The meeting also featured a public hearing on the proposed budget, you can view Xpress‘ recap here.

Commissioners will next meet on Tuesday, June 20, and are slated to approve the budget at that time.

You can view Xpress‘ previous budget coverage below:

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About Dan Hesse
I grew up outside of Atlanta and moved to WNC in 2001 to attend Montreat College. After college, I worked at NewsRadio 570 WWNC as an anchor/reporter and covered Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners starting in 2004. During that time I also completed WCU's Master of Public Administration program. You can reach me at dhesse@mountainx.com.

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