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Divided council postpones action on Half Moon Heights rezoning request

Residents of Wolf Chase oppose the proposed Half Moon Heights development. Residents of Wolf Chase oppose the proposed Half Moon Heights development.

The Hendersonville City Council on Thursday deferred action on a rezoning to allow 95 single-family homes on a wooded hillside adjoining Wolf Chase and Ballantyne Commons off Chimney Rock Road.

The council's action came after almost two hours of discussion that made clear two members were poised to vote no. The council agreed to put the request on the agenda for the December meeting.

Developer Joseph Schlotterbeck of Fairview described the evolution of the subdivision from 121 lots to 93 based on discussions with the city planning staff and feedback from the neighborhood, adding street lights and a school bus stop, and upgrading stormwater control. The rezoning applicants also added sidewalks connecting to Ballantyne Commons and Wolf Chase, a dog park and playground and a wildlife corridor.

"The largest challenge on this site is preservation of natural habitat," Schlotterbeck said. While the city ordinance requires 29 street trees and no buffer trees, developers plan to plant 219 buffer trees and 412 street trees — a total of 631, the same number they would take out. In addition, "we're preserving 294 trees" and more than doubling the open space from the original proposal. While the current zoning allows 10 units per acre, the proposed development would amount to 2.76 units per acre. "We're really proposing almost some of the lowest density that could be accepted here," Schlotterbeck said.

Neighboring homeowners pleaded with the City Council to turn down the rezoning request.

One resident said she had a "nagging feeling that there's something very wrong here. We're going to have more runoff from that hill once you clearcut 500 trees and replace them with saplings," she said. "Please protect the citizens that already live here."

Gus Martschink, a resident of Wolf Pen, said the project is incompatible with the neighboring land.

"This piece of propery is pristine," he said. "We've had bears in our backyard and it doesn't bother us a bit. While the developer may have all well intended thoughts, he is profit-motivated and that's OK to some extent. ... You just can't keep cutting trees down and replacing them with twigs."

In a Planning Board meeting last month, Schlotterbeck said the development would be made up of three-bedroom, two-bath homes ranging from 2,000 to 2,400 square feet and projected to sell for $375,000 to $475,000. He described the price as "semi-affordable" and acknowledged that the cost would not meet the accepted definition of affordable. Construction cost spikes and supply chain issues, he said, have added $25,000 to the cost of each house. Although the Planning Board recommended that all the homes have recessed garages with front porches as the prominent architectural feature, the developer agreed to make the majority of them with recessed garages.

Council member Jerry Smith said in the course of the recent campaign for City Council, many voters mentioned the Half Moon development.

"Without exception there is no one who is in favor of this and I asked several people, Are you against this development or are you in favor of this development? It was overwhelming. Nobody mentioned Boyd Park."

Council member Jeff Miller, who is leaving the board next month, said the new council will have to contend with many more developments. Approved or pending requests would result in more than 1,000 units of housing in the city.

"I don't know where you find this middle ground that really gets everybody comfortable," he said. "I'm glad I'm leaving it. I hate to see people so upset but I also I feel people have a right to develop the property within the guidelines given."

Mayor Barbara Volk also said the council faced a difficult balancing act.

"People have the right to develop property that they own unless it can be purchased for conservation," she said. "With all the concerns we have for housing, I wish there were some way to do both — to have fewer houses but still be affordable. Unless you have very large lots in there, trees are going to get cut down. It just gets so prohibitively expensive to do minimal tree removal when you have to have roads and buildable areas. Yes, people like the green space next to them. It's wonderful but it's property that belongs to somebody else and unless it is purchased to remain green the owners have the right to do something with it."

Council member Lyndsey Simpson said the Half Moon proposal and Providence Walk, which the council also took up Thursday, showed that the city had "reached a turning point" in whether to permit the many projects that are on the drawing board. "There's so many infrastructure issues here," she said. Since City Council can't guarantee that the NCDOT would fix the traffic problem, it can only limit the damage by voting no, she said.