Letter: No rhyme or reason to development approvals

Graphic by Lori Deaton

In December 2017, local neighbors living off of Aiken Road in North Asheville were outraged when the [Buncombe County] Board of Adjustment approved a conditional use permit to Atlanta-based Hathaway Development to build an apartment complex on 29.5 acres of land near the intersection of Aiken Road and Country Oak Drive.

As with so many homeowners in northwest Buncombe County, I was opposed to the 296-unit, high-density Aiken apartment complex and, perhaps more importantly, the process by which it was decided.

The people in this community showed up in force with strong concerns about traffic along Aiken Road, a narrow two-lane road connecting Weaverville Highway and New Stock Road with limited visibility in many spots and one of the most dangerous roads on a typical day with the already-heavy bottlenecks on the entrance to I-26. We were also concerned about additional noise and light, the destruction of bear and deer habitat, and the reality that this apartment complex does not fit in with the surrounding neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the Board of Adjustment felt the manipulated traffic study recruited by Hathaway was reasonable enough to approve the complex. Perhaps having a member of the BOA as a partner with Hathaway helped to approve a project much too large for this quiet neighborhood with single-family homes that have dotted the bucolic countryside for many generations. The destruction to the area and the danger of the traffic on this road will reverberate forever.

In contrast, it was recently announced that “amid wide-ranging criticisms” from neighbors, “Buncombe County officials shot down plans for a proposed 214-unit housing development in East Asheville,” [according to an April 11 Citizen Times article].

[The article continues,] “Buncombe County’s Board of Adjustment voted 5-2 against issuing a conditional use permit to developer Michael Posey of Spartanburg, South Carolina-based RAB Builders LLC for a project planned on the site of 423 Moffitt Road in East Asheville near the Swannanoa River.” …

The Aiken Road project is not close to any hotel or commercial properties, has far less buffer to the neighborhood and is a traffic nightmare waiting to happen. I can’t help but wonder why they would say no to the East Asheville development but approve a another development that mirrors it in so many ways, especially in regard to one neighbor’s concern: “This road is a narrow, curvy, dangerous road,” the neighbor said [in the Citizen Times article]. “People speed on it; they’re in your lane 50 percent of the time. There’s nowhere to go.” Our neighbors expressed the same issues. And the Aiken Road project was approved.

Why the difference? Is it because there is a higher-end demographic in East Asheville neighborhoods versus Aiken Road being a small, rural neighborhood? Is it because no one on the BOA is a partner in the development company, and they have no stake in the profits? The people of this East Asheville development, [according to the article], “hammered the project for lacking in specifics for its stormwater design, the height of the proposed buildings — which would sit high off the road and slope down with the natural terrain — and its impact on traffic, among other issues.” Well, so did we. Exactly. What is the difference?

I encourage everyone to take a ride out Aiken Road and look at this neighborhood and envision what a 296-unit apartment complex will look like. Why yes to this Hathaway project and no to the East Asheville project? Money? Profit? We still have many issues with this BOA and I am hopeful for the day when there is a system in place that is fair and objective in regard to responsible growth and development in our county.

— Marilyn Ball
Asheville

Editor’s note: Xpress contacted the Buncombe County Planning Department, which offered the following response to a summary of the letter writer’s points: “County boards follow North Carolina laws relating to member conflicts of interest. Accordingly, in all cases, boards evaluate potential conflicts of interest and recuse members as appropriate to ensure, among other things, that no voting member has a financial interest in the outcome of any matter.

The Board of Adjustment sits as a quasi-judicial body. In such proceedings, seemingly similar cases can sometimes have different results depending on the facts and evidence presented to the board. In all cases, parties in interest have the right to appeal the board’s decision.

Buncombe County Planning and Development is committed to maintaining orderly and responsible growth in an ethical and transparent way through its administration of land use ordinances written for the community as a whole rather than any individual. It respects, appreciates and encourages input from its community through, among other things, participation in board meetings and letters to local publications.”

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14 thoughts on “Letter: No rhyme or reason to development approvals

  1. luther blissett

    “Is it because there is a higher-end demographic in East Asheville neighborhoods versus Aiken Road being a small, rural neighborhood?”

    No. Take a ride out there some time.

    The Moffitt Road site is just outside the eastern city limit off a winding two-lane road. It was a breathtakingly cynical project even by the standards of developers who want to drop cookie-cutter apartment complexes into cheap acreage in the unincorporated county.

    https://goo.gl/maps/VNfmaG8f54t

    Ms Ball has repeatedly made her feelings clear on this topic, and there are many reasons to sympathize with her and her neighbors. But was she concerned when the Coggins Farm property in Riceville was set to be converted into a 382-unit “European-style village”? Did she notice what was happening in Reynolds and Arden and the area between Woodfin and Weaverville before the developers showed up in her back yard?

    • dyfed

      “cookie-cutter apartment complexes into cheap acreage in the unincorporated county.”

      Also known as affordable housing for the poor and working class.

      • luther blissett

        “Also known as affordable housing for the poor and working class.”

        Yeah, no. It’s a perverse definition of “poor and working class” to require car ownership or a willingness to walk a mile to a bus stop along a narrow road without a sidewalk.

        • dyfed

          You’re kidding, right? It’s an ordinary definition. We shouldn’t build affordable housing unless it’s also got urban walkability? That’s nuts. First, most of our poor and working class are rural and suburban poor/working class. They have access to cars. Affordable housing isn’t just for people who live in downtown.

          Second, we are massively underbuilt, so every affordable dwelling, walkable or not, relieves upward price pressure on the few that are located in areas where walkability can be achieved. Since there is literally nowhere in the non-downtown area (let alone the county) that is realistically going to be walkable anytime in the next, oh, I don’t know, 20 years, maybe it would be a good idea to just build affordable housing how we can, actually helping people, rather than spit on it because it doesn’t meet the utopian requirements of people who can’t imagine wanting to live outside of downtown.

          • luther blissett

            “First, most of our poor and working class are rural and suburban poor/working class. They have access to cars. Affordable housing isn’t just for people who live in downtown.”

            Here’s a hint, dyfed: take a glance at how affordable suburban housing is built in places like, uh, Wales. It’s not
            exactly utopian to suggest that if your car is in the shop — because cars! are! expensive! — you shouldn’t have to call a cab or walk a mile in the mud to avoid being fired from your low-paid job.

          • Jay Reese

            Or we could require all new development to have access to sidewalks and transit.

  2. dyfed

    I agree with the NIMBY! The permitting and zoning process is fickle and opaque. Both uses should have been approved. In fact, neither should have had to go through a conditional use permitting process at all.

  3. jason

    Aiken Road is great place for the apartments. When the NIMBY’s start complaining about traffic concerns and how whatever development is going to effect their views, people quit listening. These are not excuses for not allowing something to move forward.

    • luther blissett

      The species of NIMBYism that is bound up with bucolic sentiment has limited use. (For what it’s worth, the houses nearest to the Aiken Rd apartment site were built in the 1980s, not the 1880s.)

      There is a broader argument to discourage developers from buying up cheap tracts randomly dotted around the city limits for a fast turnaround and profit, dumping the long-term infrastructure externalities onto the county and NCDOT.

      • dyfed

        “There is a broader argument to discourage developers from buying up cheap tracts randomly dotted around the city limits for a fast turnaround and profit”

        You say this like building houses and apartments in affordable areas is bad.

        “dumping the long-term infrastructure externalities onto the county and NCDOT.”

        If you want developers to chip in to add capacity to county roads, say so. Just prove that it’s necessary with a traffic study that accords with national and state standards and have the planning board make a conditional variance. Simply denying it on the basis of no evidence with no remedy? Well, that makes the position of the county clear: they’re kowtowing to NIMBY fears about ‘the poors’ coming to dwell next door.

        As in the letter, when people allege that traffic studies are ‘manipulated’ without any evidence, it just makes them look ridiculous. To be frank, we do not have a traffic problem in Buncombe County. We have issues with Asheville’s downtown parking, sure, and on a limited and local basis, many of the main thoroughfares are too narrow—which is a problem that cannot be remedied by refraining from building housing in the county.

        • Lulz

          LOL one of these jokers wrote once that even though they’ll be poor, they’ll have beautiful art to look at lulz. The disconnect between them and reality is so great that they assume art, philosophy, and books will uplift the poor even though their chances of having a somewhat descent quality of life is nil. Literally you’re arguing with ignorant, and do mean the most ignorant people on the planet who have had easy lives and who believe that since they can quote words from someone 500 years ago makes them intelligent lulz. Not the fact that when they went to college it was affordable and not a scam like it is today. Or that their fatcat government jobs and pensions is only because 10 people have to go with less money in their pockets to pay for it.

          What it also says is that they moved here from the big city where sidewalks and mass transit were the norm. What they omit though is they don’t spend their retirement money in the same place. Guess their greed is good.

        • luther blissett

          “You say this like building houses and apartments in affordable areas is bad.”

          Once again, you miss the point by several miles. Apartment developers borrow a few million dollars to buy cheap land and slap up their Lego buildings, sell on the finished development to a management agency and move on to the next project. If this were all happening in roughly the same area then it would be possible to plan sensible infrastructure, but it happens in whack-a-mole fashion around the large circumference of the city limits whenever cheap undeveloped land becomes available because a property owner wants to cash out or passes away and the heirs want cash money in the bank. (This is, of course, city-grade density that the city can never annex thanks to Tim Moffitt.)

          If the county is always having to take a reactive approach to externalities, it will do so badly. It will always be playing catch-up. The commission and the planning board should be willing to designate the areas where adding density makes sense — regardless of the NIMBYs — and areas where dropping in small islands of density would be dumb for everyone except the developer.

          I’m not a NIMBY. I’m in favor of adding density in ways that aren’t stupid.

        • Jay Reese

          No, actually the roads are too wide and need to be narrowed through the addition of bike lanes or bus only lanes.

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