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.
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.”