Letter: Haw Creek rezoning foes likely don’t have a chance

Graphic by Lori Deaton

I’ve participated in many rezoning battles and have learned the hard way that some rezonings are “pre-decided” behind the scenes.

An Asheville resident (although not in Haw Creek), I have followed the Haw Creek rezoning effort because of the precedent it will set for lower-density neighborhoods. Haw Creek is especially vulnerable due to a number of multiacre tracts in this rural neighborhood, something not lost on Asheville leaders.

The way the city has handled this rezoning points to one that was “greenlighted” by officials before the proposal ever reached the neighborhood. Here’s my basis for that view:

First, city staff approved the Residential Expansion District as the “appropriate” conditional rezoning mechanism, a gross misapplication.

Section 7-8-42, Residential Expansion, of the Asheville Code of Ordinances on development states: “It is intended that proposals in this district … be located near employment centers, shopping facilities, roads and other urban infrastructure capable of handling the demand generated by higher-density residential development.”

None of this is present in Haw Creek. Perhaps city leaders and staff know something we don’t. Perhaps their long-term goal is to “re-create” Haw Creek into an urban setting.

This district’s “design standards” require: “When a proposed project is located adjacent to residentially zoned areas, it should be compatible with the immediate neighborhood context in the following ways: building scale, setback and relative height of structures.”

This project fails to meet those standards by any reasonable measure.

Tellingly, no “street view” drawings/depictions were provided that would show the buildings as seen from ground level, something present in virtually all development plans.

The missing street view is likely intentional insofar as the planned 35 town houses to the west of New Haw Creek Road will loom 60 feet tall as seen from the road, due to a 20-foot elevation rise of the land and the 40-foot building height.

Moreover, the townhouses are assembled with five units to each building, such that the row of three townhouse buildings within 100 feet of the road will each be 110 feet long. These three buildings will visibly equate to a structure almost the length of a football field and 60 feet tall. The submitted deciduous tree buffer along the road will be grossly inadequate to shield this monolith from view.

The single-family residences to the east will present the first row of eight 40-foot-tall houses with narrow side setbacks and result in the visual equivalent of a 430-foot by 40-foot monolith as viewed 200 feet from the road.

The proposed scattered mixes of mainly smallish-sized deciduous trees are grossly insufficient to be an effective visual buffer.

Second, this “precedent-setting” rezoning has moved rapidly, beginning on Jan. 10 and continuing with the recent 4-3 approval by the Planning and Zoning Commission on March 20. That approval denied the neighborhood’s reasonable request for more time for compromise. That approval sets the stage for a final vote by City Council on April 23. Apparently, some officials believe that three months are adequate for this precedent-setting rezoning.  There are few downtown projects that have proceeded so quickly.

Third, this 27-acre parcel contains significant flood plain area. While the developer designs for this, they are using outdated (and already mistrusted) 2010 national flood insurance maps (from the Federal Emergency Management Agency) for baseline conditions.

Those knowledgeable understand the federal government is “dragging their feet” on facing the reality of increased flooding and with respect to flood insurance. Because of this, the nonprofit First Street Foundation has built on existing FEMA flood maps to indicate the larger flood areas that will result from the heavier rainfall events from climate change. These adjusted flood-risk maps have been available for several years and are even utilized by online Realtor.com in its property maps for each listing. Many property insurance companies have already been using these updated flood maps to determine flood insurance rates and coverage.

The First Street flood maps show that some of the proposed single-family houses will likely flood in coming years. Also, the new access road will be flooded with as much as 3 feet of water.

Additionally, all of the new houses, driveways and roads will add 8 acres of impervious area that heretofore was almost zero, which will certainly exacerbate downstream flooding in the community. Who’s going to take responsibility for that outcome?

I do believe this parcel should receive some level of development. Every neighborhood must realize that Asheville needs more housing and, as important, a larger property tax base, a deficit of which plagues Asheville uniquely.

However, greater density development in the Haw Creek neighborhood must be respectfully designed, including leaving some old-growth tree areas, effective visual shielding and more realistic assessment of flooding impacts.

As I’ve reasoned above, this appears to be a “pre-decided” rezoning similar to some I’ve witnessed over the years. Almost assuredly, Council’s approval will be a mixed vote (just like the 4-3 commission vote), which is a common “behind-the-scenes” strategy to stage some “show of concern.”

I hope that I am wrong with this view. The developer should never have been allowed to submit a conditional rezoning for this land under the Residential Expansion District and waste substantial time and energy of the Haw Creek neighborhood.

— Mike Rains



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3 thoughts on “Letter: Haw Creek rezoning foes likely don’t have a chance

  1. RG

    Well stated, with facts and information. Asheville City Council has proven time and again to care very little for the quality of life of Asheville citizens when large developments are proposed. Remember how they ignored Richmond Hill when a mixed race working class neighborhood was facing the destructive Bluffs proposal with a 1200% increase in traffic on a narrow dead end street that the Buncombe County fire marshal determined inadequate without a secondary fire access road?

  2. indy499

    The US population will growb by 40-50 million by 2050. Shocking to some here, is that a number of those folks will reside here. Get over it.

    • Lou

      Population will go up exponentially now that the demon gop has reverted to mid century bans on abortion. VOTE BLUE IN ROEVEMBER PEOPLE. We have to eradicate the cancer that is the GOP.

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