Richmond Hill residents hunker down for fight over proposed development

GO BIG OR GO HOME: John Holdsworth, the developer of the controversial Bluffs at River Bend mixed-use development in Woodfin, is sworn in to testify at the town's Planning and Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting on March 1. The proposal currently on the table includes roughly 1,400 residential units, spread out between seven five-story buildings. Screen capture courtesy of the town of Woodfin

The battle lines have been drawn: Richmond Hill residents, eager to preserve their quiet neighborhood from traffic and construction, will do just about anything to block plans to build nearly 1,400 residential units overlooking the French Broad River. And Florida-based developer John Holdsworth and his team appear equally committed to seeing their project approved and constructed. 

Tensions were high as the two sides met on March 1, the first time the controversial Bluffs at River Bend project appeared before the Woodfin Planning and Zoning Board of Adjustment. Developers asked officials to approve a conditional use permit that would allow the project to exceed the town’s standard 35-foot maximum building height. 

Taller buildings would maximize open space and minimize the development’s footprint, said attorney Derek Allen, who represents Holdsworth. That translates into seven five-story residential buildings on the 82-acre property. Early site plans had also included a hotel, retail and office space, which have since been removed from consideration. 

Richmond Hill residents have fought the development for months, launching a Facebook group and a GoFundMe page that’s raised more than $14,000 to cover legal costs. 

Major concerns include increased traffic volume and stormwater runoff into the French Broad River, said John Noor, the attorney representing several Richmond Hill stakeholders. Unlike Asheville and Buncombe County, the town of Woodfin does not have a steep-slope building ordinance; neighbors worry construction will wash sediment and other pollutants into the river or nearby Richmond Hill Park.

Galen Wilcox, a Richmond Hill resident whose land directly abuts the proposed development, said he commissioned a traffic study to quantify the impact on neighborhood roads. In his testimony before the board, he said the traffic engineer estimated more than 10,000 vehicles would enter and leave the Bluffs each day. “That’s way too much for Richmond Hill Drive to even imagine,” he said.

A bridge across the French Broad has been discussed as a traffic mitigation measure but has yet to be formally proposed, reviewed or approved by state and federal agencies.

On Feb. 23, 11 Richmond Hill residents called into Asheville City Council’s meeting to ask the city to get involved in the legal fight. The city declined to seek standing before the Planning and Zoning Board of Adjustment, but Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said it’s possible the developer would need a permit to access the property via city-maintained streets. 

But Allen argued that the question at hand only concerns the height of the proposed buildings, not the project’s impact on nearby homes and businesses. The parcels in question are currently zoned as Mountain Village, he explained, meaning multifamily housing under 35 feet in height is allowed by right. Holdsworth told the board he plans to follow the 17-unit-per-acre density requirements allowed under current zoning rules, bringing the total number of units to 1,394. 

The board did not reach a conclusion about the height variance, instead deciding to continue the discussion to Monday, April 5. If the permit is approved, the developers will still need to submit a master plan to the town before getting the green light to begin construction.

“We’re here about whether it’s three stories or five stories,” Allen reminded the board at the close of the meeting. “By the time we roll back to the next hearing, we may be back to three stories and moot the entire thing.” 

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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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9 thoughts on “Richmond Hill residents hunker down for fight over proposed development

  1. Enlightened Enigma

    This project is so exciting and well planned. Yes a new bridge will be needed, but ok fine! GREAT new community just outside Asheville city!!!

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    • Mike

      Puh-leaze. If the new bridge is needed, then get the permits for it in place as part of the master plan. The developer has clearly and definitively stated that is not his plan. His plan is proceed with all parts of the construction permitting process and start construction before even formally exploring the bridge option.

      That’s all but saying a bridge would be nice but don’t plan on it.

    • Rebecca Robertson

      Who is Enlightened Enigma?
      If you have ever driven up Richmond Hill Road, you would would understand that there is a hairpin turn that trucks routinely gets jack-knives on. It is clear that that road cannot sustain an additional 10,000 car trips/ day, or the Contruction vehicles that would be necessary for the 82 acre massive development.
      The Developer has proposed a new BRIDGE ( across the French Broad)to handle the resulting traffic BUT who will pay for that NEW BRIDGE?
      Will it be the taxpayers ?
      Will that NEW BRIDGE ruin the NEW Woodfin Greenway and Blueway? Yes it will !!!!
      Will the storm water runoff pollution hurt the French Broad River ? Yes it will

  2. Mike R.

    “Taller buildings would maximize open space and minimize the development’s footprint, said attorney Derek Allen, who represents Holdsworth. That translates into seven five-story residential buildings on the 82-acre property.”
    Well, why not go for broke. Make it one 35 story building.

    The 5 story block buildings are the scourge of development over the past decade (started in earnest after GFC in 2009) and built all over the country. They are wood framed construction with parking decks in the center. Developers have been building these things by the droves and thus this developer likely wants to use existing plans to save on costs (sure maybe they’ll change the color of the siding).
    Probably Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac is providing the financing (another government handout).

    Even though this is a large tract of land, the density impact on nearby neighborhoods/property owners doesn’t fit, IMO. And the height is certainly questionable for this natural area.

    • Mike R.

      NOT NIMBYism on my behalf. I support development and even this development if they address height, density and traffic better. Basically, making a “better fit” for the surrounding (and yes existing) community.

      Taken to extreme, why have any zoning rules at all. Let anyone build anything, anywhere. A 20 story high rise in an older established neighborhood of SFR’s. I don’t think that is reasonable.

      • Enlightened Enigma

        but remember… the developer is BEYOND lucky that this is outside AVL city limits! P and Z would eat him alive if possible.

        • KW

          yeah, the developer call P&Z a ‘bunch of scumbags’ so who is eating who? they should kick his ass out of here…

    • NIMBY

      Just what the community needs. More NIMBYism. I think we need more housing and density instead.

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