A day late and a dollar short for Helmick, the county honored his request, and zoned the portion of the property by the highway NS, the back of the property R-LD, and the portion in between Medium-Density Residential (R-3). But in 2009, the county’s zoning ordinance met a legal challenge, with attorney Albert Sneed of the Van Winkle Law Firm leading the charge. In order to make the zoning ordinance square with the courts, county planners, among other things, reviewed the zoning map to remove anything with the appearance of spot zoning. In the process, Helmick’s parcel was reverted entirely to R-LD.
The following year, WNC Mountain Land Corp appealed the decision, once again requesting a NS zoning. The planning board approved the request, but the Buncombe County Commissioners denied it. Still R-LD, the county enacted its Steep Slope, High Elevation, and Protected Ridge ordinance, subjecting half the property to overlay restrictions. Helmick says he only asked to have 6 acres of relatively flat land zoned for commercial use, but somebody with the county decided to add 0.23 acres on the “steep-slope” portion of the property to his request, which complicated things. He said he even begged, “Please zone me more,” suggesting something like a Small Neighborhood Zoning, but that request went unheeded.
By 2011, the country was in the throes of the Recession. Helmick said he couldn’t continue making payments on the property and fighting what was shaping into a ten-year battle with the planning board. So, he “let the bank have” his investment. The bank sold the property to Rosenberger, and he and Helmick entered a partnership to try to sell the land. In 2013, Rosenberger again attempted to change the zoning to NS, the planning board again gave its approval, and the commissioners again denied it. So, after biding his time, Rosenberger once again attempted the rezoning this year. This time, the proposal came before the commissioners with the planners’ recommendation to deny.
At Tuesday’s meeting, after reviewing the history, Helmick explained he had been unable to sell the property. Over thirty potential residential buyers had said they would never build on the plot because of all the noise from the five-lane highway, which neighbors at least agreed was dangerously busy for a neighborhood. The property was nicely buffered from nearby residences with deed restrictions and topography. It wasn’t suited for a huge manufacturing facility, all they were trying to build was something like a doctor’s, dentist’s, or real estate office. What’s more, he suspected a residential buyer would be more inclined than a business to cut down the stately oak trees to capitalize on the view of the parkway.
Neighbors were of another mind. They had moved to the country for a residential experience, and now the value of their home investments was threatened. Half a dozen complained a business would add traffic to an already busy highway; rape the land; cause more runoff than already disturbs neighbors; and disrupt viewsheds, both from US-74A, which is a Scenic Highway, and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Fifty-five neighbors had signed a petition opposing the project. One took it upon herself to shop for other commercially-zoned properties in the area that the developer might like for an investment, suggesting he check out over an acre right next to her house. Another asked how the developer presumed to provide “neighborhood services” when none of the neighbors wanted them.
Not all were opposed. Harold Gray is building a house in Fairview. He told of a welcome packet he had read that said 50,000 people are expected to move into the area within the next fifteen years, and those people are going to need services. Dale Deines, DDS, said the portion of US-74A in question was “obviously a commercial strip” and already in need of more services.
Commissioner Mike Fryar tried to help the property owners in their plight. “He keeps coming back to try to be able to do something with his property,” he protested. “The man owns the property. The man spent money to help get sewer up the mountain. Somehow the planning board or somebody needs to try to get with him so he can figure out what he can do with this property besides nothing – except sit on it. What are we going to do to be able to let people use their land is what I want to know.” After being assured by county planner Debbie Truempy that Rosenberger would be able to do the same things all the neighbors zoned R-LD can do, Fryar added, “I have a hard time telling people every time they come forward, ‘You can’t do this with your property, you can’t do that with your property, but you bought it.’”
The commissioners voted to once again deny Rosenberger’s request. The vote was 4-3 along party lines, with Fryar, Miranda DeBruhl, and Joe Belcher voting in favor of the NS zoning. After the meeting, Helmick expressed frustration. He had purchased the property over a decade ago and invested in improvements. It has since been cut into by the expansion of US-74. An easement allowed the county to erect a cell tower on the hill. The same easement had been used by MSD for a water tower, which is now partially demolished and decorated with graffiti. The county could have had a nice, new dentist’s office. Instead, a decade later, the parcel is a hangout for teens.