The county’s planning board voted 4-3 against the request, and county staff agreed to deny it. The reasons they gave were that the change would constitute a spot zoning, and it would not conform to the surrounding residential parcels and natural areas, which include the Blue Ridge Parkway.
A couple residents complained about traffic. Judith Lyons-Picard said it takes her an hour to drive four miles to or from work sometimes when Zen Tubing is open for business. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve personally been along Brevard Road, and there have been children and adults in the road. I could only imagine adding alcohol to that,” she said.
As for aesthetics, she said, “The parkway is for the people of our country to drive through here and enjoy the beauty of where we live. I could only imagine, also, driving along there and seeing a great container sitting down there along the river. That would be beautiful.”
Jerry Rice said the area had been a hot spot for crime years ago, and he didn’t think availing alcoholic beverages was going to help anything. He asked the commissioners to familiarize themselves with the old news stories. “Best thing to do,” he said, “is just vote it down tonight and forget it and then do the investigation later.”
Years ago, Sandy Bottom had a reputation for being a party spot for drug abusers. It was also the territory of a ring of professionally-trained smash-and-grab artists. Nearby Bent Creek was associated with more serious tragedies; but business is supposed to “put eyes” on high-crime areas.
Jenn Ditzler, White’s wife and the president of Zen Tubing, countered some of the claims. She said the property was surrounded by the French Broad River, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Highway 191. It did not directly abut any residential properties.
She said Zen plays by all the rules, having to procure a business permit from the county every year. Other shipping containers are already on-premises. They are used because FEMA allows them in floodplains, and Zen Tubing has contracts in place to haul them away within two hours of a flood advisory.
As for environmental stewardship, concerns about the business contributing to flooding were unfounded, as there is only one 15’x20’ impervious pad on the whole lot. The only steep slope on the property was the riverbank, and nobody was going to put a container there. What’s more, company employees clean trash daily, and nonprofits use Zen’s launch for river cleanups.
White explained there had been a problem with parking and people in the road. As soon as it came to Zen’s attention, they made arrangements for spillover parking at a church down the road. Parking in the road is allowed, but, out of concerns for safety, Zen asked the state to put up no-parking signs.
White said the NC DOT had prioritized its plans for widening the road to ameliorate the traffic problems that existed before Zen ever opened. While uncertainties loom about if and when the widening would impact the business, speakers used it to justify both “Why bother?” and “Why not?” stances.
Commissioner Robert Pressley, who lives four miles away from Zen, said Rice made a good point and added, “What Zen Tubing’s done is a great business model of letting people enjoy the river, but I have never seen where alcohol and water mix real good together.”
Commissioner Joe Belcher echoed. He said White had a fun business that he hoped to patronize one day. Then, to illustrate why he wasn’t going to support alcohol sales, he called attention to a recent article in the Charlotte News & Observer. It said in 2017, law enforcement officers in Buncombe County charged 552 persons with being “intoxicated and disruptive.” The only county coming near that was Wake County, with 324 charges.
In Other Matters –
Ken Higgins asked the commissioners to consider supporting statewide legislation that would allow fox trapping. He said 70%-80% of counties in the state allow it, but Buncombe is not one of them. Higgins said the county outlawed the practice back when fox and hound hunting was popular, but “nobody does that anymore.”
Higgins said the fox population was now exploding. He wanted the practice legalized because he raises free-range chickens on his farm, and, he said, he has lost 40% of them to foxes.