CONCERNS about this project are numerous and far-reaching:
(Comments in black are original to the first Catalyst Capital Partners application for development in 2019 that was eventually withdrawn. Comments in red are applicable to the current Catalyst Capital Partners application for development in 2020. Many of the concerns remain the same.)
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 plus the 128,000 square feet of commercial space. * UPDATE: New application of 660 residential units would still be the largest apartment complex to date in WNC, is still not connected to a major transportation corridor, and is still in an environmentally sensitive area not suitable for large scale development. There are nearly 200 more units proposed here than in the Asheland/Coxe project that is downtown one block from the main transit station (which currently at 474 units). This would be bigger than anything downtown. This 55 acre parcel is an island within the floodplain - only approximately 30 acres of this island are potentially developable, and this application aims to max out these acres. There is a reason multiple other developers over the years have walked away from this parcel. The only access to this dry 30 acres is through the floodplain. 30 acres x 12 units/acre allowed density would equal approximately 360 units in a PUD, not the proposed 660 units. It is 3x larger than a typical large multi-family development which would have 200-300 units. This land is not located on a major transportation corridor and is surrounded on three sides by low-density residential neighborhoods. 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. 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). *UPDATE: The effect on surrounding residential streets is still not addressed or even considered in their Traffic Impact Analysis. Only the addition of one left turn lane is proposed for the misaligned, confusing Sand Hill Rd. intersections that would serve the northern end of this proposed development. The I-26 Connector project that would be the closest appropriate infrastructure for a development of this scale is now likely delayed until year 2030/beyond, and this development does not propose to connect to it or Hwy 191 directly. There would be no safe access into or out of this development except by car.
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.) *UPDATE: estimated 3400 new car trips a day in 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 Smokey 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. This could become the new reality for 55 homes on Bear Creek Rd. and 39 homes on Wendover Rd. 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- not a safe situation for large scale senior housing. * UPDATE: The developer would install traffic signals at Sand Hill / S. Bear Creek intersection and Sand Hill / Wendover / Bear Creek intersection and paint one 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. *UPDATE: No roundabout, now no traffic lights even, and the only improvement to the Sand Hill Rd. intersections would be the addition of a turn lane onto S. Bear Creek Rd. There would remain no safe pedestrian access for the development's residents or surrounding residents crossing Sand Hill Rd. and along S. Bear Creek Rd. in either direction. This means there would be no way to safely walk into or out of their development.
Police, Fire, EMS response to this County development that is surrounded by the City is a concern. This parcel is in the County's Asheville Suburban Fire District, meaning the City provides the services, yet the Asheville Suburban Fire District pays the second lowest tax rates in the County. The closest Fire Stations, Stations 6,10, and 11, are all City of Asheville Fire Stations located 1.7, 2.8, and 3.5 miles away. The closest Police Station is also City of Asheville on Haywood Road in West Asheville. If the County were to respond, it will be from the new Enka/Candler Station #3 farther away at 3.2 miles distance. The surrounding City of Asheville roads that emergency vehicles would necessarily use for access to this development are inadequate for the emergency vehicles, as is the crumbling, misaligned DOT bridge on S. Bear Creek Rd. Traffic calming measures on Wendover Road have been rejected in the past due to concerns about fire truck access for just the existing residential population. 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 storm water 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. *UPDATE: 15 buildings, 1064 spaces of impervious surface parking, construction still pushed out into the floodplain. 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 seemingly fits the current standards of development, it does not mean the development will not have severely negative and damaging 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. *UPDATE: This current application proposes 32 acres of disturbed (graded) land. The developer's assertion that this is only 60% of the parcel is again misleading, because less than 30 acres of this 55-acre parcel are out of the floodplain, not prohibitively steep, and out of the DOT's right of way. 30 acres x 12 units/acre allowed density for Planned Unit Development would equal no more than 360 units, not 660 units. See photo below illustrating the island within the floodplain. There is good reason why this land was zoned PS for Public Service and has remained undeveloped.
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. In fact, a flat dirt path with connections on either end would be more useful. 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 a trail intended for pedestrians and cyclists, essentially a drive-to greenway (?). 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 the development. The 20' permanent easement to the County is not mentioned in the new application. To spend the money on a public gravel trail here is short-sighted without the connections to actually make it a useful segment of the Buncombe County Greenway Master Plan. It is marketing, not functional greenway.
This project as proposed has no “affordable housing;” it is market rate housing. The project will be presumably 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. Larger 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 and livable? 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 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 through REITs. *UPDATE: The developer has agreed to a condition designating 5% of their units as affordable housing by County standards. This is not mentioned in their actual Application for Conditional Use. No definition of affordability provided in terms of income level or duration. If they agree to the County's definition of affordable units, it would mean rent ranging from $1039/month for an efficiency unit up to $1717/month for a 3-bedroom unit. And, of course, 95% of the units would rent at market prices above these "affordable" rates. Developer does not plan to offer "nightly rentals," but this would not prohibit other short term rental use within this City neighborhood.
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!
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 developerment 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, tripling your neighborhood's population, without a zoning change and without your elected officials voting on it? 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. Development should enhance quality of life for an area, not damage it.
Zoning Ordinance / Oversight / Accountability
The current Buncombe County Zoning Ordinance shows serious flaws when it would allow for the largest apartment complex in WNC to be built without the highest level of planning and oversight. This project still did not 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 case-by-case zoning variances, is the body tasked with deciding to approve or deny the largest and most ambitious developments to date in the county is absurd and also seems to place an unfair burden on the board members themselves and their time. It is notable that two of those Board members had to recuse themselves from this vote. This is not government for the people.
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. Surrounding City of Asheville residents on all sides of this parcel pay a property tax rate 75% higher than this parcel's tax rate. 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. The developers should ask that the project be voluntarily annexed by the City and pay their fair share.
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. Their typical project size is for many fewer units than proposed here (less than 300 units). 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 before submitting these applications for development. Any engagement was seemingly done for lip service and checking a box. The "engagement" that they did conduct was through the Board of Adjustment hearing process in which citizens were forced to raise thousands of dollars in order to have their voices heard.