By Clint Parker
Leicester – The development of a 270-unit apartment project on Leicester Highway got the green light last week from the Buncombe County Board of Adjustment. According to Josh Freeman, Buncombe County Zoning Administrator, the project now can move forward, with the county only monitoring to make sure the developer does what he has stated. This, despite the opposition of more than three dozen residents who showed up at the hearing.
Those opposed to the project cited several reasons to not allow Southwood Realty Company’s project, including traffic, overcrowding of schools, flooding, farming, and the environment, but all fell on deaf ears as the board passed the plan unanimously.
The hearing was conducted like a court proceeding with the board hearing from both sides, with the developer outlining his plans for the property along Leicester Highway first. William Ratchford, vice president of Southwood Realty, presented his company’s design for the apartments. After he was finished, he had members of his staff present aspects of the project, including a traffic impact study.
The hearing was not to rezone the property for the project as it was already zoned for such a development as was being proposed. The hearing was about the height of the project as the zoning rules only allowed for a building to be 35 feet high. The current plans call for 46 feet in height.
After Ratchford and his team finished their presentation, he was asked if he had any more witnesses, “No I think we’ll handle the rest in questioning,” he said.
When the board Chairman Martin Moore asked for a raise of hands from those who were there to oppose the project, nearly three-quarters of the room raised their hands. He then began taking testimony stating, “Just so you know, in the ideal world we are looking for facts, not opinion.”
With that, the first person started with, “Not only do I care about the landscape of the area, I do care about traffic and zoning and things like that.” The unidentified resident, who was inaudible from where the Leader reporter was seated, made points about flooding, traffic, access, impact on land value and the quality of life. “I think he asked some valid questions, some we don’t have discretion on,” said Moore and gave it back to Ratchford to respond. Ratchford deferred until all opposition was heard.
In other testimony, Della Hunt, whose property adjoins the development spoke saying, “My land is the property that will be right against this development…I am concerned about my children’s schools that I’ve not heard any proof that they will not be negatively impacted. I have not heard anything to the pollution to the area, the pollution to Lee’s Creek, which is right up against my property.” She talked about the trees and wildlife that would be impacted by the development. “I don’t understand how you’re going to fit an apartment complex there…I just want to see that those things are addressed.”
“I’ve watched development to up all around our farms and take our farms for years. My main question is about traffic analysis,” said resident Jason Revis. “The one thing I don’t think has been kept in mind is the development already going on in the Leicester area and how the current development that is already happening in the Leicester area in conjunction with this 270 apartment complex is going to impact our roads.”
The majority of the testimony from the opposition hinged on concern over historic, aesthetics, and agrarian statements mixed in with concerns over the quality of life, environmental, traffic, school and flood impact with little in the way of facts specified. In the end, the calls from residents for board members to intercede in the project was to no avail.
The only other variance that was allowed to the developer pertained to the number of units granted. The zoning calls for only 201 units, but 270 units are planned. The additional units were permitted because the developer is participating in a program called “Community Oriented Development,” which will commit a number of the units to be affordable or workforce housing which means a lower monthly rent price. Ratchford said just because those apartments would be lower in cost did not mean they would be less in quality.