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
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.”