Mike Fryar took an unprecedented stance on behalf of property rights at Tuesday’s meeting of the Buncombe County Commissioners. In question was a 6-acre portion of a 10-acre tract of land in Fairview at the corner of US 74 and Cedar Mountain Road. C. Daryl Rosenberger requested a rezoning from Low-Density Residential (R-LD) to Neighborhood Service (NS). The land abutted a five-lane highway, and, according to Keller Williams realtor Allen Helmick, is surrounded either by businesses or topography that should serve as an adequate buffer for other uses.
County planner Debbie Truempy recounted the property’s “complex zoning history.” When the county first attempted zoning, owners were allowed to recommend their zonings, and the owner of this parcel recommended NS. His request was denied, so he appealed the decision to the planning board. They reached a compromise, and split-zoned the property three ways. When the county was preparing for countywide zoning in 2007, planners noticed the triple-split as anomalous, and in 2009, they reverted it to R-LD. The owner appealed in 2010. His petition was supported by the planning board, but denied by the county commissioners. Since then, the property has been complicated with steep slope and high-altitude overlay districts. The owner once again appealed for a NS zoning, the planning board approved the request 4-1, but staff recommended denying the request.
Fryar shared a different perspective. As a resident of Fairview, he had driven past the lot every day. At first, he saw a for sale sign advertising the lot as commercial. Fryar was following the various zoning decisions. Soon after the commissioners denied the rezoning, somebody painted over the word “commercial” on the sign. The next sign he saw on the property indicated it had gone into foreclosure.
A lot of people, he said, argue about their right to control other peoples’ property. Fryar had received many emails on the subject. The owner had spent $200,000 running sewer lines to the property, but through zoning, the county took his property value away. People had moved to the area, built their big homes on steep slopes, and then they got the county to zone the remaining lots so nobody else could build and obscure their viewsheds.
The applicant was merely trying to earn a living and sell his property. Fryar had visited the site, and he concluded it could support a business. Fryar was supportive when somebody wanted to set up a tire store by his house, because he believes in property rights. The guy is now employed and paying taxes. Sadly, the county gives those who only look more rights to property than those who purchase, pay taxes on, improve, and maintain it.
When the floor was opened for public only Helmick supported the zoning change. He saw no reason why the property, graded in three tiers, couldn’t easily support a business.
Ten others told of the dangers of the proposed zoning. Neighbors told heart-wrenching stories of people who had been killed on I-74 in that area. Establishing a business on that parcel, they argued, could only increase the number of fatalities. Traffic was hazardous; that intersection is not suited for business.
Steve Schmeiser, past-president of Mountain WILD!, the local chapter of the NC Wildlife Federation, said the property was in an official wildlife migration corridor. The corridor was unique in that it ran east-to-west. Another lady affirmed the appropriateness of the corridor designation, saying in three years she had seen two bears.
Many citizens told how they had come to the mountains, or remained in the area, to start a family. Developing the land would result in fallen woodlands, which would lead to topsoil runoff. Neighbors were not so much concerned about viewsheds as they were about destroying habitat and geological integrity. One neighbor explained they were more concerned about the future than they were about money.
Another noted seven vacant commercial buildings in the neighborhood, and said they’d be occupied if there was demand for business activity. She had surveyed the neighborhood and found sixteen of twenty-five neighbors opposed the rezoning. Other neighbors expressed concerns that whoever would eventually develop the property would flip it, leaving life-long residents in havoc. The previous owner was criticized for making bad investments.
Before the 6-1 vote against the rezoning, Commissioner Ellen Frost told how she had visited the site with her 11-year-old granddaughter. After seeing the steep slopes, the little girl said, “Grandma, this isn’t gonna work.” Joe Belcher concurred; the steep slopes would be an issue for neighborhood safety. David King humbly acknowledged the limitations on his ability to foresee the future, and said he would prefer to error on the side of caution. Only Fryar expressed confidence that enterprising minds could turn the property into a win-win situation for the neighborhood.
In Other Matters –
The commissioners approved the purchase of property for an intermediate school in Enka. Buncombe County School Board member Lisa Baldwin argued the decision did not represent the wisest use of tax dollars, nor was it properly vetted. She believed a little juggling of school district lines could postpone the need for more construction into the foreseeable future. Activist Michelle Pace Wood disagreed, saying prices are going up, and the sooner construction starts, the better.
In the formal presentation, Superintendent Dr. Tony Baldwin and Chair David Gantt exchanged kudos aimed at indirectly discrediting Lisa Baldwin’s comments. It was claimed the commissioners had performed due diligence by consulting experts over the last six weeks.
The commissioners approved spending $1.98 million on the school. Belcher called attention to the fact that the price had been negotiated down by $250,000. The school would be funded with money from Section 39. Tony Baldwin explained Section 39 was created after Buncombe County Schools were rated in the Dirty Dozen nationwide. The state created a 1-cent local tax to go directly to capital improvements for Buncombe County Schools.