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NIMBY NATION: Greatest hits of grassroots uprisings

A grassroots movement killed Duke Energy's transmission line plan in 2015. A grassroots movement killed Duke Energy's transmission line plan in 2015.

Residents rising up against big developments, road projects and disruptive land-use changes have had some remarkable successes over the years. The grassroots movements to prevent development have staged fights against the big and hugely consequential — a TVA proposal to build 14 dams — to the trivial — the playground at the Park at Flat Rock. Here’s a look at some of the notable past and current fights in our area’s colorful nimby history.


Dam fighters defeat TVA, 1968-72

A David and Goliath battle pitting natives and newcomers against the giant TVA and its many powerful allies ended in 1972 when voters locally and statewide replaced project advocates with those who opposed the ambitious flood-control project. Organizer Jere Brittain called the effort a “perfect storm” of politics and timing. The new National Environmental Policy Act gave opponents a strong weapon to force the government into accountability and public hearings. Retirees with expertise joined natives with their family homesteads at stake to form a powerful grassroots coalition that finally prevailed. Here's an in-depth look at the historic fight.

Ingles on N.C. 191, 1995-2005

Bob Ingle badly wanted to build a supermarket on N.C. 191 in the Rugby area. Rugby residents wouldn’t allow it. Ingles Markets tried unsuccessfully in 1995 to build a store next to Rugby Middle School. It tried in 2003 on N.C. 191 at North Rugby Road — withdrawing a zoning request before it reached the Board of Commissioners — and again in 2005. Five-hundred residents who turned out at the West Henderson High School auditorium cheered when commissioners voted 5-0 against the rezoning.

Clear Creek Connector, 2000

Residents of neighborhoods on N.C. 191 in Hendersonville and tenants of the Beverly Hanks Center packed hearings to oppose the NCDOT’s plans for the Clear Creek Connector, a new bypass from I-26 to N.C. 191 that had the strong support of the Chamber of Commerce. The roadway would have sliced through the office complex and Patton Park, and residents of the Haywood Road neighborhoods feared a flood of traffic. In June 2000, the Hendersonville City Council reversed an earlier vote in favor of the project and voted to kill the project.

The Cliffs at Brevard, 2000

DuPontStateForestThe Friends of DuPont Forest had members and support far beyond the area adjoining the 2,200 acres of waterfalls, trails and woods they ultimate saved. Hikers, campers, hunters and conservationists made up a broad coalition that successfully blocked developer Jim Anthony from turning the forest land into an upscale subdivision called the Cliffs at Brevard. Led by Chuck McGrady, a summer camp owner who would become a county commissioner and state legislator, the Friends of DuPont Forest raised money, wrote letters and lobbied local and state officials. In October 2000, the state Cabinet voted to buy the property under its power of imminent domain. The state’s initial payment of $12 million was doubled to $24 million in a settlement filed in Transylvania County Superior Court. Anthony, who bought the land for $6.35 million in 1999, said he had invested another $14 million on improvements.

Grimesdale asphalt plant, 2001

In 2001 residents of the neighborhood off Brookside Camp Road packed hearings and organized Citizens Against the Asphalt Plant to fight an asphalt plant Tarheel Paving Co. planned on 16 acres on Asheville Highway. The CAAP, held rallies, distributed pamphlets, sponsored public forums and attended hearings to warn of what they regarded as the plant’s adverse effects on air quality, water quality, health and property values. It was a valiant fight that failed. When a Superior Court judge upheld the issuance of a permit by state air quality regulators, the Grimesdale Homeowners Association gave up. The plant has operated since with no air quality complaints.

I-26 widening, 2002.

A federal judge blocked NCDOT’s plan to widen I-26 to six lanes after opponents filed a lawsuit on environmental grounds. Opponents, who had formed Citizens for Transportation Planning, argued that the Federal Highway Administration and the NCDOT failed to study how the I-26 widening in Henderson County and three other related projects in Buncombe would affect air pollution, traffic and growth. The plaintiffs won their case at trial, effectively blocking the I-26 widening for almost 20 years. (A six-lane project in Henderson County is scheduled for 2019.)

Crail Farm Road bridge, 2008.

Residents of Middleton Road and the vicinity in Flat Rock objected to a plan by the NCDOT to replace a 43-year-old wooden bridge on Crail Farm Road, a lightly traveled dirt road that connects Kanuga and Middleton roads. DOT engineers described the bridge as “structurally deficient” and “functionally obsolete” and said floodwaters would likely “take out a center support” and wash the bridge away. A discussion of the bridge construction dragged on for 5,400 words in minutes of a Board of Commissioners meeting. The NCDOT ultimately redesigned and constructed a new bridge.

Duke Energy transmission line, summer of 2015

The biggest nimby uprising since the TVA battle, this was another grassroots battle that involved regular folks against a powerful adversary. Unlike developments that can be stopped at the local level, a utility’s plans for new transmission lines and power plants are exempt from zoning and other local laws. But one characteristic common to nearly all successful nimby movements is their refusal to be cowed by long odds. A coalition of homeowners, environmentalists, tourism industry businesses and farmers turned out people by the hundreds at hearings in Henderson County and Upstate South Carolina to oppose Duke’s plans. Every city in Henderson County except Hendersonville adopted resolutions opposing the 45-mile 230-kilovolt transmission line and the Hendersonville City Council and county Board of Commissioners urged a second, independent look at whether the project was needed. After five tumultuous months of protests, public hearings and negative publicity, Duke pulled the plug.

Bradley Road event barn, October 2015

StanShelley3Stan Shelley has led the fight against an event barn in his backyard.Although the Zoning Board of Adjustment granted a permit for the event barn for weddings and other gatherings two years ago, the opposition has not retreated. Homeowners and dozens of allies from as far away as Crab Creek and Asheville have protested the decision at subsequent Zoning Board of Adjustment and county commission meetings, saying commercial uses should be barred in residential zones. Although the permit was upheld by the state Court of Appeals, homeowners have continued to press their case at the zoning board meetings, asking it to revoke the permit.

Flat Rock Playground, summer 2016

Residents of the Highland Golf Villas implored the Flat Rock Village Council to suppress the noise at a children’s playground at the Park at Flat Rock or move the facility far from their homes. After several months of protest and a noise study, the Village Council says no. Moving the playground would be too expensive, Mayor Bob Staton said, and would disrupt future development spelled out in the park master plan.

Eagles Nest at Horse Shoe Farm, December 2016

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to deny developer John Turchin’s rezoning request for 225 cottages and apartments at Horse Shoe Farm on the French Broad River. Residents of Tamarac and other subdivisions on South Rugby Road packed Planning Board and county commission meetings to oppose the project.

Carl Sandburg Home Historic Site parking lot, April 2017

Planned for years by the National Park Service, a second parking lot on Little River Road triggered a small but effective nimby response by across-the-street neighbors. When a contractor bulldozed 36 trees, the neighbors called their congressman and the Flat Rock Village Council, complained to the chief ranger for the historic site and mounted a petition drive to block the project. Work has stopped since the opponents sought to block the parking lot.

Senior living apartments, Aug. 3, 2017

The Hendersonville City Council unanimously denied a rezoning that would have allowed 126 senior apartments plus a café, movie theater and library on eight acres in the city’s extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction on U.S. 64 east of Laurel Park. Neighboring homeowners argued that the development was incompatible with the residential area and would overburden already congested U.S. 64.

The Farm at Eagles Nest, Oct. 19, 2017

EtowahCowThe Henderson County Planning Board rejected a 299-unit development in Etowah.Nine months after the county killed his Horse Shoe Farm plan, developer John Turchin stood before the Henderson County Planning Board and asked for the green light for a 299-unit development of rental cottages, apartments and RV spaces on a 225-acre tract in Etowah that’s currently a cow pasture. The Planning Board said no, agreeing with the nimby assembly’s objections based on traffic, water and sewer access and neighborhood compatibility.

Arcadia View cottages, pending

Residents of Hunters Crossing and Hawthorn Hills have organized strong opposition to a development of 209 rental cottages on Davis Mountain across from their subdivisions. Wearing green “Fix U.S. 64” buttons, opponents have attended public hearings on road projects and meetings of the Board of Commissioners, the county Transportation Advisory Committee to demand U.S. 64 improvements. The Laurel Park Town Council asked the NCDOT for a second in-depth traffic impact study, which is pending.

Boyd Drive bridge, pending

Residents of Boyd Drive, Flat Rock Forest and other subdivisions have decried a planned bridge replacement over Memminger Creek as an overdesigned monstrosity that would bulldoze dozens of large hardwoods and destroy the aquatic habitat. NCDOT says the bridge is unsafe and has to be replaced. Residents and Village Council member John Dockendorf have been negotiating with NCDOT engineers for a more modest design.

Highland Lake Road widening, pending

NimbyHighlandLakeResidents turned out in large numbers to oppose the Highland Lake Road widening project.Opponents of the NCDOT project that would widen Highland Lake Road, straighten curves and add a separated multi-use lane have organized to block the project on the grounds that it’s an overreach that takes too many trees and threatens the Park at Flat Rock. Although the Flat Rock Village Council endorsed the project earlier this year, two council members are pushing their colleagues to reverse the endorsement or demand changes. Historic Flat Rock members oppose the project as inconsistent with the historic character of the village.

Kanuga Road widening, pending

Signs saying “No widening Kanuga,” “Yard Not for Sale,” and “Save the Trees!” dot Kanuga Road from Church Street in Hendersonville to Little River Road in Flat Rock. Kanuga residents are rallying against the $20 million project. They argue that widening the travel lanes to 11 feet and adding 4-foot paved shoulders as dedicated bike lanes is “government overkill” that would take hundreds of trees, remove rock walls and subdivision gates and turn a rural road into a speedway. The 4.2-mile project also would include turn lanes at the Kanuga-Erkwood intersection and a 5-foot sidewalk north of Erkwood.

U.S. 64 improvements, pending

Residents on either side of U.S. 64 in Laurel Park have raised objections to planned improvements from Blythe Street to White Pine Drive that include 12-foot travel lanes, 5-foot striped bike lanes in each direction, 5-foot sidewalks on either side, a 17-foot grass median and roundabouts at (realigned) Windsor Drive-White Pine, Pisgah Drive and Glasgow Lane.

FixUS64After the NCDOT moved roundabouts and made other changes to accommodate businesses, the Laurel Park Town Council endorsed the plan on Feb. 21. The 1-mile project also passes through Hendersonville and unincorporated Henderson County. Meanwhile, residents further west, in Hunters Crossing and Hawthorn Hills, oppose a development on Davis Mountain and say the highway should be improved before more development is allowed.

Sources: “Gun Fights, Dam Fights and Water Rights: Essays on the History of Henderson County, North Carolina, and Vicinity,” James Brittain, 2001; History of Grimesdale ( by Merle D. Thornton (president, 1950-1986), Arthur F. Drant Jr. (1987-1991) and Evelyn M. VandenDolder (1992-2008); minutes of Henderson County Board of Commissioners, Hendersonville City Council, Flat Rock Village Council, Laurel Park Town Council; Henderson County Transportation Advisory Committee, NCDOT public information brochures on road improvement projects, City of Hendersonville NCDOT Road Projects Update, Hendersonville Lightning, (Hendersonville) Times-News, interviews.