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Zoning board delays action on Crab Creek storage units

An organizer offers anti-rezoning cards as homeowners file into Bo Thomas Auditorium. An organizer offers anti-rezoning cards as homeowners file into Bo Thomas Auditorium.

The Henderson County Zoning Board of Adjustment delayed acting on an application to allow a  mini-storage unit development on Crab Creek Road Wednesday night after a 4½-hour hearing ran up against the board chairman’s time deadline.

The zoning board continued until 4 p.m. Aug. 11 the hearing on the applicant's request to permit a mini-storage unit development covering three acres on 9½ acres on Crab Creek Road east of Camp Blue Star and west of Evans Road. Board Chair Ron Kauffman called the meeting to a close at 8:23 p.m.

Applicant Matthew Cooke is seeking a special-use permit to allow the development, which is a permitted use in an R2R residential zone, the current land-use designation for the land with certain conditions. Cooke’s site plan shows the buildout in four phases of 39,000, 51,000, 24,000 and 10,000 square feet, an office and a gated entrance.

Led by residents Fritz McPhail and Randy Doss and other homeowners who live near the site, opponents launched a broad campaign against the permit, asserting that it is incompatible with a rural residential and farming community on a winding two-lane road. About 110 people turned out for the hearing in Bo Thomas Auditorium at Blue Ridge Community College.

Through questioning of county Zoning Administrator Matt Champion, Brian Gulden, Cooke's attorney, tried to show that the development would have buffers as required by the county zoning code, that there are other commercial uses within two miles and that the storage units, that an rural-urban transition area, as the land is designated in the county comprehensive plan, was designed to allow some amount of urbanization and that the development would not contradict the comp plan's "growth management strategy."

Opponents were represented by John Noor, who like Gulden is a specialist in land-use cases. Noor's questioning of Champion attempted to establish that the area is primarily residential and to suggest that a nearby auto repair garage was in fact a residential dwelling because it had an upstairs living space.

Randy Doss, who lives across Crab Creek Road from the site, said he had retained a property appraisal, a traffic engineer's study and a soil science analysis showing that the development would have negative effects.

"The viewshed we have there is pretty tremendous," he said. Noor submitted the experts' reports on property values, traffic and stormwater runoff and offered to call the experts to testify.

Gulden called Cooke to testify on his own behalf. Cooke said that he had modified the original plans by changing the entrance based on NCDOT guidelines, adding buffers that would hide the rooflines and moving the dumpster from the front to the southeast corner. He made the changes, he said, "to just try to go above and beyond to hide these buildings from the community."

"I know my opposition says there is no need for stroage but I disagree," Cooke said. "I think Crab Creek is a path to growth. I don't think people are going to slow down coming here. They're coming here in droves" and many will need storage. The units will be green and sandstone "to make it look more conforming to that industrial style" building next door. The building, originally built by the former NASCAR team owner Andy Petree, is a 20,700-square-foot red iron and steel building with three 16-foot rollup doors, two 10-foot doors, a paint booth, a chassis room and other space for working on high-performance race cars. Also nearby is an event center, Cooke said, with a commercial kitchen, and within a half mile are an EMS station, a catfish farm that charges $12 for fishing and an electrical substation, Cooke said.

Cooked opened Apple Country Storage at 3414 Chimney Rock in 2008 and has expanded twice.

"Now we have no units on that parcel. It's full," he said. Because "I've always liked the Crab Creek community" he began looking for land for his next storage unit development. The Crab Creek storage facility will be surrounded by a black vinyl space. Hours would be 7 a.m. until 7 or 8 p.m. The units have no electricity and would have no way of accommodating someone trying to live in one.

"We run a tight ship," Cooke said. "They would be escorted out of there or (managers would) call the sheriff's department to help us."

Jared DeRidder, the engineer for the project, said the closest storage building is 100 feet from the large Deco Motive Design that Noor said includes a dwelling." Any outdoor storage, such as boats and RVs, could be screened from neighbors, he said. DeRidder said the plan calls for 330 trees as buffers. Stormwater would be stored and treated before discharging it into Mud Creek. The lighting can meet "dark sky" requirements in a way that prevents light pollution, he said.

Rick Hall, a traffic engineer who traveled from Florida, testified for the opponents about a traffic impact analysis he made. Based on crash reports and traffic volume he found that Crab Creek Road "is essentially a fairly unsafe facility," he said. "I have concluded that the implementation of this facility in this location would be a dangerous to the community because of the motor vehicle activity in and out and particularly the fact that many of those are trucks, the fact that they would be rental trucks or borrowed trucks."

The"antique" Crab Creek Road "is quite detrimental to safety in that area already. In addition, those large vehicles would create a more dangerous situation. ... This is a road that was not designed. It was simply built and it was built in the 1800s" when travel was by "ox carts and horses when speed was not an issue."

He said he clocked a car going 78 mph on Tuesday. He showed a dot map showing serious crashes on Crab Creek and Kaunga road, including a two near the rezoning site. "This brings the reality of how these problems exist," Hall said. Compared to other roads in the region, Crab Creek and Kanuga roads are much more dangerous, with 12 crashes and three fatalities per 100 million miles. "We have a 10- or 12-fold more dangerous than on U.S. 25," he said. Looking at all the roads in the region, Crab Creek Road's fatalities per 100 million miles "are significantly higher than anything else in the region," Hall said.

Hall said his analysis would lead him to recommend to avoid putting "an intensive auto and truck use on the most dangerous road in the region," he said. "Placing this kind of facility on the most dangerous road in the region is not a good idea."

On cross examination, Hall acknowledged that Crab Creek Road's inadequacy means that any development, including a subdivision, is a bad idea on the site. But Hall went on to say that he was retained to analyze the storage unit proposal, not other possible developments. "This development at this location is not something I would ever recommend," he said.