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Buncombe wants affordable housing & tourists but not together


By Leslee Kulba-Was that a double-standard Commissioner Joe Belcher called out?

Biltmore Farms requested the rezoning of a 42.6-acre parcel that wraps around Bent Creek Baptist Church on Brevard Road and abuts the French Broad River. They wished to up-zone from R-3 (Residential) to CS (Commercial Service).

Commissioners were concerned that a portion of the property was in the Blue Ridge Parkway Overlay, but they were informed that portion of the property already had the higher-intensity zoning. It was Belcher’s opinion that people would be able to see any development on the property from the parkway. Commissioners had questions about surrounding parcels held by Biltmore, and citizen Jerry Rice was afraid of overdevelopment leading to pollution of the river. “Biltmore never does anything small,” he observed. It seemed odd they would be requesting an upzone without anything in mind.

Lee Thomason, representing Biltmore Farms, said the company was requesting the rezoning as part of their long-term land-use planning. The zoning had been analyzed for its appropriateness when the legislature dissolved Asheville’s ETJ. Mike Fryar asked if the county was going to have to invest in major infrastructure upgrades should Biltmore want to build the next big thing. Presenter Debbie Truempy assured him city water and sewer lines ran close. She also hinted Biltmore may only want to set up something like a rafting business.

The commissioners approved the rezoning. Only Newman voted against it.

In another request for a rezoning, Nelson Allison sought permission to upzone a riverfront trailer park from R-1 to R-3. The Planning Board did not like the idea. The request came to the commissioners with a recommendation to deny. Among other things, “The Buncombe County Comprehensive Land Use Plan 2013 Update highly suggests that multi-family residential uses not be located in areas with steep slopes, moderate and high slope stability hazard areas, flood hazard areas, or areas not within a reasonable proximity to major transportation corridors,” they wrote.

County staff concurred. The only nice thing they could find to say about the project was it “has proximity to public utilities.”

In presenting the request, Truempy shared the owner already rented seven mobile units, and he wanted to add three small vacation rentals known as park models. The small units typically have less than 400 sq. ft. of interior space. Truempy said the little cabins were neither built to HUD nor county standards.

Belcher, who has made a living in the mobile home business, said the units could be built either to ANSI or modular home codes. Some were really expensive with two floors, and some travelers consider them the resort of choice. He said the units could not be HUD-certified because they are not intended for permanent residence.

Fryar saw no problem with somebody “putting three things” on their property. “I’m not going there,” he said. “It’s their money.”

Belcher observed the commissioners had just approved upzoning a parcel from R3 to Commercial, but they were about to deny upzoning a parcel situated along the same river to a mere R3. On a split vote, the commissioners denied the request. Fryar, Belcher, and David King supported the owner’s property rights.

The commissioners approved a third rezoning. The applicant wanted to construct retail space on New Airport Road. When Asheville icon Alan Sheppard addressed the commissioners in support the project as owner, one could only wonder if south Asheville might be getting a new pawn shop.

In Other Matters –

Kevin Mathis, owner of Asheville Elevator Company, returned to repeat his request, during the informal public comment portion of the meeting, that the commissioners address what he says looks like unfair bidding practices. His complaint was that Otis Elevator seemed to have an inside angle for getting county contracts with inferior bids.

Since the last time he spoke, which was about a month ago, it happened again. Otis was just awarded a contract for the elevators that will be installed in AB Tech’s new buildings. Mathis said his company’s bid came in $80,000 lower than the next closest competitive bid. Otis has an international presence, he said. They were going to use proprietary equipment, and they offered no tech support. Asheville Elevator, a local company founded by Mathis’ father 57 years ago, would have installed non-proprietary equipment with free tech support.

Mathis said nobody invited his company to a post-bid meeting to explain the decision. Asheville Elevator had been invited to attend a pre-qualifying meeting. At that time, their representatives had inquired about when they might have an opportunity to further elaborate on their products. They were told essentially, “We’ll see if you’re a low bidder, and we’ll worry about it then.” Asheville Elevator was the low bidder, but nobody ever called them.

Now, the county has invited Asheville Elevator to bid on another project. Mathis said preparing bids takes a lot of time and effort. “I don’t know what to do with this. I don’t know how to react,” he said. Chair David Gantt said staff would get back with him, but that was what he told him last time, after expressing serious concern that anybody in the county’s employ would give anybody the impression they were being unfair. Gantt then amended his promise, saying somebody would get back with Mathis within 48 hours.

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