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County Zones Because It Can

Zoning_Code_Graphic RS

The first several properties were located between the City of Asheville and the Town of Woodfin. The larger of three swaths contained several lots with mobile homes, so county staff and the planning board recommended an R-3 (multi-family residential) zoning as most conforming to the existing neighborhood character. The two areas to the north had some mobile homes that developers were in the process of trying to get removed in order to create upscale, single-family communities. The planning board sympathized with comments heard from residents, and recommended those areas be zoned R-1 (single family residential). County staff, however, argued topographical constraints would discourage any kind of trailer park or apartment complex. They recommended giving those parcels an R-3 zoning, and lumped them in with the first properties to make giving everything an R-3 zoning easier for the commissioners.

Half a dozen people provided public comment. All but Jerry Rice asked that the commissioners zone the people in the northern two areas as they wanted to be zoned, R-1. Speakers wanted to protect the single-family character of their neighborhood to preserve their property values. Some invoked the traffic argument. Mike Parrish said if he had been as organized as the East Asheville library advocates, he could have presented the commissioners with 100 signatures supporting R-1 zoning. He said even people in mobile homes there didn’t want trailer parks. Rice observed those commenting were “people with money and high influence,” and suggested the lack of “little people” was indicative of a flaw in the county’s noticing system.

Commissioner Holly Jones was OK with staff’s recommendations. She said it, “has been the Wild, Wild West out there,” and the county was “now trying to make some sense” of something “nobody had had the political courage to figure out in the past.” The county had to “start bringing structure and planning” somewhere. Chair David Gantt, was more inclined to separate the vote, in harmony with the planning board’s recommendations.

Through a line of questioning, Commissioner Brownie Newman established the county’s steep slope overlay district did not apply to unzoned parcels. He said because the overlay district protected steep slopes from overdevelopment, it was perhaps the “most effective land-use policy in Buncombe County.” Commissioner Ellen Frost thought it important to zone the parcels immediately to get the overlay’s protection. Issues about R-3 or R-1 could be sorted out later. Newman made a motion to zone everything R-3 and said if that motion failed, he would move to just zone the greater area R-3.

Gantt asked what recourse people wanting R-1 zoning would have if the commissioners were to zone them R-3, and Truempy said they would have to go through the entire process from scratch. However, a whole street or neighborhood would have to apply together, as the county was not going to open itself to legal challenges for spot zoning. Commissioner Mike Fryar observed nothing catastrophic had happened in the areas without zoning, and he didn’t foresee disasters were the properties to remain unzoned. Through a line of questioning, he established each person re-applying would have to pay a $250 fee; persons with multiple parcels would pay $250 for the first parcel and $25 for each additional parcel. Gantt therefore made a friendly amendment to waive the fees; Jones amended his amendment to limit the waiver period to one year.

The motion passed 5-2, with DeBruhl and Fryar opposed. Joe Belcher, who worked for Clayton Homes for twenty-eight years, voted for the R-3 zonings only because it would help increase the county’s affordable housing stock. He said at some point the county should change its R-3 zoning to differentiate between quality manufactured homes and, in not so many words, trailer-trash mobile home parks. All other initial zonings would pass on a 4-3 vote with the three Republicans on the board, DeBruhl, Fryar, and Belcher opposed.

Parrish was so exasperated, he addressed the commissioners during public comment on the second batch or properties. “You’ve listened. I’m still in shock, but I wonder if we’d have had every property owner here, that was affected in that area, if it would have made any difference to this board. And I also wonder if that R-3 designation were in front of your house, as Rebecca [Robertson] has just mentioned, would it have made a difference. So, it’s very frustrating to me. I don’t have the time in government that y’all have, so I don’t know how it works. I’ve been to two meetings, and at each one of those meetings, everyone offered up a solution that would have worked for the whole group: R-1. I’m just making a public comment in hopes that you’ll think through as you continue on down this path a little bit about what people are saying. If this is indeed public comment, if people are able to make comments, I hope you’re listening.”

Continuing, he exposed the commissioners as fools for missing the mark with their decision, while revealing some tyranny of the majority was afoot. “So, you’re going to waive the $250 fee, but how do you get all that rezoned again? How can you get all those homeowners together to rezone it? Because what will happen is Rebecca can come back and say, ‘I’ve rezoned,’ but the property that she’s concerned about, the mobile home park in front of her, is going to drop her property value possibly. You’re not going to get that guy to go back and try to get it rezoned. So, you had an opportunity to really do something good, and I feel like this board failed miserably. And that’s just my opinion. Thank you.”

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