CONCERNS about this project are numerous and far-reaching:
This would be the largest multi-family development in all of Western North Carolina. As proposed (802 units), it has 50% more residential units than the next largest development (550 units) plus the 128,000 square feet of commercial space. It is 3x larger than a typical large multi-family development which would have 200-350 units. This land is not located on a major transportation corridor and is surrounded on three sides by low-density residential zoning. Most large multi-family projects in WNC have entrances on 4-lane highways or egress to multiple roadways, and do not connect directly to existing residential neighborhoods. North of the interstate that cuts through here (but does not connect here), every occupied adjacent property is a single family home. This project's entrance would be on a winding 2-lane road with no pedestrian infrastructure that connects to existing narrow residential streets to get to the most convenient public transit and closest neighborhood services (grocery, pharmacy, bank, schools, parks).
The surrounding infrastructure is already inadequate and unsafe for the current population level of this area for both vehicle and multimodal transportation. The roads on one side of this project are narrow City-maintained residential roads that cannot accommodate a huge increase in car trips per day (around 7000 additional car trips according to their traffic study.) The traffic coming through the surrounding residential streets would be increased by 4x or more and change the use of the roads from neighborhood streets lined with driveways to connector roads between Sand Hill Rd and Smoky Park Hwy. The intersections are currently dangerous, misaligned, and lack pedestrian infrastructure. There is already congestion at rush hour that causes the intersections on Sand Hill Rd. to be rated F level of service according to the NCDOT. There are already homes that have their driveways blocked with traffic here. There are missing stretches of sidewalk and no crosswalks even at intersections with school bus stops. The strain on maintaining the existing adjacent public park (Hominy Creek Greenway) is an issue. The lack of connection to existing public transit routes and who would pay to extend public transit to these 1600+ new residents and daytime commercial users is another concerning issue. The pedestrian infrastructure that does exist in the area is not ADA compliant. *UPDATE: The developer would install traffic signals at Sand Hill / S. Bear Creek intersection and Sand Hill / Wendover / Bear Creek intersection and paint a crosswalk at the Sand Hill / Wendover / Bear Creek intersection only as a condition of their approval. However their own traffic study shows that the level of service would go from an A to an F for some directions of travel with these traffic signals. The signals do nothing to mitigate the increase in volume at this intersection or to keep traffic from cutting through the residential City streets, and the crosswalks were already part of the City's planned improvements for the area. There would remain no safe pedestrian access for the development's residents or surrounding residents along S. Bear Creek Rd. in either direction. This means there would be no way to safely walk into or out of their mixed use development.
Police, Fire, EMS response to this County development that is surrounded by the City is a concern. The closest Fire Stations (6 and 10) are both City of Asheville Fire Stations. The closest Police Station is also City of Asheville on Haywood Road in West Asheville. If the County responds, it will be from the Enka/Candler station much farther away. Traffic calming measures on Wendover Road have been rejected in the past due to concerns about fire truck access. Pedestrians, cyclists, and school bus riders will be in danger at the surrounding intersections, roads, and sidewalks because of the lack of infrastructure and increased local and cut-through traffic. Sand Hill Rd. currently lacks guard rails to protect vehicles, pedestrians, and bikes from a steep 45 ft. drop-off into Hominy Creek and would see a drastic increase in use. The filling and addition of impervious surface in this flood storage area will increase the potential for catastrophic flooding for houses and businesses upstream and downstream. Public safety around this proposed development is currently poor and will only deteriorate more without significant investment by NCDOT and the City of Asheville (taxpayers).
The environmental impact of this project would be far-reaching and could have consequences unanticipated with our current ordinances. The wetlands and floodplain in this land were formerly a bend in the historic natural course of the Hominy Creek and later a lakebed when the river was dammed. As is, this land treats all the stormwater from the surrounding area including the interstate with wetlands, large trees, and undeveloped floodplain. This green infrastructure will be filled and destroyed to make room for the development. New impervious surfaces including the roofs of 22 buildings, 1400 spaces of impervious surface parking, and a new road will all have negative impact, especially with the trend to more extreme weather events. In addition to increasing run-off, sediment, and erosion issues on a waterway already struggling with water quality issues, there will also be light pollution, noise pollution, and thermal pollution associated with this development. Much like the Azalea Park soccer fields provide important flood storage along the Swannanoa River that helps protect areas downstream from catastrophic flooding, this land provides similar benefit for the Hominy. The loss of hundred+ year old oaks, wooded land, wildlife habitat, and important buffer from the interstate are also issues. Smart growth values retaining green space within urban environments for its many benefits. Again, even if the proposed site plan fits the current standards of development, it does not mean the development will not have severely negative environmental impacts. *UPDATE: The developer's assertion that 42% of the land will be left undisturbed is a misleading statement because they are including floodplain, steep slopes, potential DOT easements, and church grounds in that number. Apart from what the church is retaining, every buildable part of the site has been maximally planned for development. The development will actually increase flooding to the existing church that is selling this land as well as surrounding homes during 50 and 100 year flood events according to advanced hydraulic analysis.
Hominy Greenway and Larger Greenway System
The development as currently proposed has a private nature trail along Hominy Creek that the developers state will be open to the public and include public parking. They have not committed to making this a public greenway by deeding or granting easement to the County. They have not committed to constructing it to the County's standards of construction. They have not committed to connecting it to the existing adjacent Hominy Creek Greenway or the proposed future greenway system going out Hominy Creek/Sand Hill Rd. towards Enka. Please reference the statement from Friends of Hominy Creek Greenway and the Buncombe County Trails Master Plan. A private partner to develop a segment of greenway here would be desirable, but it needs to be done completely, with connectivity, and gifted to the public immediately. *UPDATE: Developer has agreed to give a 20' easement to the County and construct a 6' to 8' width gravel trail. Building a gravel trail on flat land is not the difficult or expensive part of greenway construction. It is the connections that matter for a short flat stretch such as this. There has been no agreement to connect this trail at either end, so it would remain a drive-to destination with high traffic congestion and with unsafe conditions for pedestrians and cyclists trying to access the trail, essentially a private park open to the public at certain times. The pedestrian infrastructure that the developer has agreed to install will not connect to their own development or trail and was already part of the City's planned improvements for the area. The plans include no pedestrian infrastructure on their road frontage. So again, this means there would be no way to safely walk into or out of their mixed use development.
This project as proposed has no “affordable housing;” it is market rate housing. The project will be marketed to seniors 55+ (people coming from larger markets or having more than one home?) and will also include a hotel of 56 Short Term Rental units. Asheville’s need for more affordable housing is being widely covered in the media and is at the forefront of our collective political conscience. Money is being spent by various groups to try to understand and plan for the challenges of affordable housing. It is not a challenge that is unique to the Asheville area. Cities such as Charlotte where developers have built similarly are also still acutely suffering from a lack of affordable housing. The data and analysis to date do not point to a simple supply/demand relationship that more market-rate rentals lead to more affordability (see the Bowen Report.) Supporting a proposed project just because it brings new units to the market is a strategy that will only lead to more problems around growth, inadequate infrastructure, and congestion. Will any of the units once constructed be affordable and remain that way? Will the proposed development push out residents and/or make unlivable areas that were previously affordable? Will the constructed project expand the tax base that supports the surrounding infrastructure? (No, because City of Asheville infrastructure surrounds this.) How does this project meet the publicly stated strategic goals of affordability? Does this project place too much of a burden on one geographic location with its sheer size? *UPDATE: Predictably, the developer has agreed to remove the 56 Short Term Rental unit hotel. The building has not been removed from the site plan and will add to the market rate rental count instead. The site plan still shows a group of 6 "tree houses" in a different location. Their application for conditional use still says uses will include "cottages, .... vacation rentals buildings." Market rate rentals are built because developers feel certain that they will be able to increase their rents over time. If they instead forecast decreasing rental demand, they would not build. Development of this nature is exploitative with its promises and does not deliver affordability. It is a relatively short-term investment product that is packaged and sold for multi-million dollar profits.
Not In My Back Yard is cited as the main reason why people get involved to oppose developments and is often characterized as being motivated by a desire to exclude affordable housing and/or minorities. This is not the case with this project; most of those opposed are very concerned about safety, environmental impact, adequate infrastructure, smart growth, and affordability. To push a huge development with multiple concerning aspects into an area with no community or City involvement in the planning, and no elected officials involved in the approval, should not be wished on anyone's neighborhood. Not In Anyone's Back Yard!
This project as currently proposed does not meet Buncombe County’s nor City of Asheville's strategic goals. The problems with coordination between the two planning departments, the City’s loss of Extraterritorial Jurisdiction (ETJ), and the resulting unfortunate consequences are all on full display with this proposal. The City and County need to come together in their planning regulations to rebuff development that intentionally takes advantage of the loss of ETJ. Did you know that a church property could be turned into a mini-city in Buncombe County without a zoning change? Sprawl and commuters will only increase as former City and County residents flee to the outskirts or other counties when their neighborhoods are destroyed by poorly planned development.
Zoning Ordinance / Oversight / Accountability
The current Buncombe County Zoning Ordinance shows serious flaws when it would allow for the largest multi-family development in WNC to be built without the highest level of planning and oversight. This project does not even go before the Planning Board nor does it have oversight by the Board of Commissioners. We need more accountability by elected officials for massive development and growth projects such as this so that our existing neighborhoods and communities benefit rather than suffer from development. When can the ordinance be amended to prevent this scenario? When will NCDOT take responsibility for properly planning the roadway system that they control in response to the people, not the developers? *UPDATE: That the Board of Adjustment, a volunteer appointed board set up to hear minor zoning issues, is the body tasked with deciding to approve or deny the largest development to date in the county is absurd and also seems to place unfair burden on the board members themselves. It is notable that two of those Board members had to recuse themselves from this vote. This is not government for the people. The petition opposing this project as currently proposed now has over 3000 signatures between the online and paper versions.
This parcel is a thumb sticking up into the city limits. This project would undoubtedly result in a serious burden on City infrastructure, services, and schools but would result in no commensurate tax revenue to finance this increased burden. This ties directly to the City's inability to annex, charge differential water rates, and have an ETJ. Asheville will no longer be a good place to live, much less visit, if the City continues to bear the costs of growth but not share in the benefits.
Catalyst Capital Partners is a Charlotte-based multi-family real estate development and brokerage company. The principals of this company are involved in multiple associated corporate entities (including a short-term rental management company) with offices throughout the U.S. that manage and buy / build/ sell multi-family, mobile home park, and mixed use properties. They have never done a project in WNC before. They do not live here. Despite their claims, there was minimal or no effort to engage the surrounding residents, neighborhoods, greater West Asheville community, or the City of Asheville in planning.
COMMENTS from Concerned Citizens:
.... coming soon