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Planning Board again turns thumbs down on asphalt plant rezoning

Planning Board Chairman Steve Dozier listens to public comment during a hearing on rezoning for a proposed asphalt plant in East Flat Rock. Planning Board Chairman Steve Dozier listens to public comment during a hearing on rezoning for a proposed asphalt plant in East Flat Rock.

The Henderson County Planning Board voted 5-2 on Thursday night to recommend that the Henderson County Board of Commissioners deny a rezoning to permit an asphalt plant in East Flat Rock.


The vote came after two hours of public comment and questions. After Bruce Hatfield made the motion to recommend denial of the rezoning, seconded by Jim Miller, those two were joined by Hunter Marks, Jennifer Balkcom and chairman Steve Dozier voting for the motion. Voting no, and favoring a positive recommendation on the request, were Baird Blake and Paul Patterson.

Southeastern Asphalt Co. owner Jeff Shipman refiled the rezoning application in March after withdrawing the request in December. Amid a large uprising against the plant, the Planning Board voted in August to recommend that the Board of Commissioners deny the rezoning request. Shipman opened the presentation of the rezoning request by addressing concerns neighbors had expressed about his clearing of the site of the proposed plant, on Spartanburg Highway at the U.S. 25 Connector.

“It was ultimately so we could invite the community to the property to see for theirselves that we were trying to adhere to everything we said from the very beginning,” he said. “If for some other reason this thing doesn’t go through, we still have to do something with the property. We’re going to add at least 18 jobs of office personnel, plant operator, someone in the lab, about eight trucks and it would be a great service not only for the Henderson County but everybody around and certainly not just Southeastern Asphalt.”

Engineer Warren Sugg said the 6½ -acre site would have its own stormwater treatment system and erosion control, would have dust control, would be half mile buffer from churches, medical offices and schools and would be at least 500 feet from homes.

Lynn Carmichael, a real estate appraiser with 17 years of experience in the area, conducted a value impact study of a half mile, one mile and 5 miles from asphalt plant from five asphalt plants to measure the plant’s impact on real estate sales. “My final conclusion was that there was no injurious impact on value because of the asphalt plants,” she said.

Representing Southeastern, attorney Brian Gulden told the Planning Board that a conditional rezoning request requires the board to consider impacts that might reasonably be expected from the requested use. Community commercial zoning, the current designation, allows everything from convenience stores to a waste transfer station. “It seems to fit in that same category of intensity of uses that an asphalt plant would have,” he said. “This piece of property meets that separation requirement” from churches, schools, medical offices and homes. “When you look at, do we check all the boxes, I would contend from a planning perspective we meet all those” requirements. The asphalt plant would be compatible, too, with the county’s comprehensive land-use plan, he said. One of the comp plan’s highest priorities was to set aside land for industrial development.

“My client’s property is right there in the middle of the blue circle of industrial sites that were slated to be industrially zoned” in the 2020 comp plan, he said. A map of how the land developed, he added, showed “the slow residential creep into the industrial zone. ... You’re squeezing out the economic development of Henderson County.”

Board member Trey Ford, an executive with Cooper Construction Co., recused himself before the board took up the request.

“His company uses Southeastern Asphalt and other asphalt companies in this area and we don’t want a conflict of interest,” Chairman Steve Dozier said.

A real estate agent, Dozier questioned Carmichael’s numbers that showed no impact on real estate values. Dozier looked at home sales in Grimesdale off Asheville Highway, near an asphalt plant that started operating in 2001. The home sale value dropped from $143,000 in 2001 to $124,000 in 2002. “It started to come back by ‘03 and recovered pretty much by ‘04,” he said.

“I personally walked the property and you really can’t see it from the street in my opinion,” board member Baird Blake said. “That said, I know the equipment can reach over 65 feet. How visible till it be?”

Shipman said crews are currently building dirt banks15 feet high that would be topped with a row of trees. “Would it be visible? Maybe at some point in an airplane, a helicopter. There’s going to be no harm from this plant if they would read and take in what they’re reading ... It’s very regulated. This is not a plant from 20 years ago.”

Eva Ritchey, a longtime land-use and zoning activist, testified in favor of the application.

“I fought an asphalt plant,” she said, “but this isn’t that asphalt plant. The asphalt plant that I fought was old school, polluting, it was everything it shouldn’t be, and we were fighting air pollution at the time.” The new and improved plant is “everything we hoped we’d be able to accomplish as we fought. The industry responded. They improved the facility, they cleaned it up, they did make it something that would not be harmful to the community. Are we going to say that this industry that has done what we asked it do and yet we’re not going to let them build here. This is the smallest plant that this industry makes.

“The facts do not support the fear,” Ritchey said. “The science does not support the fear. This asphalt plant will not negatively affect this community. As an environmentalist, I would never support anything that’s going to hurt my community and I support this because it will not.”

Opponents said the plant would hurt residential property values, harm a major gateway into Hendersonville, hurt the summer camp industry and reduce tourism.

“It’s simple,” a Flat Rock resident said. “If you build it, they won’t come.”

Shannon Nicholson, one of the organizers of the Friends of East Flat Rock, lives at 3315 Spartanburg Highway, about 700 feet from the proposed plant site. “I’m not a real estate expert and the truth is I believe this will impact real estate values in East Flat Rock,” he said. “This is a gateway to our community. The zoning does not call for that. Most of us when we bought homes looked at the zoning. When we made the decision to put our life savings into buying property based on zoning. If that zoning is not honored, what good is it?”

John Nicholson, who lives in Cinnamon Woods, said residents on a ridgetop can see the plant site. “There’s no way unless you put a canopy over the top of it it’s not going to be visible,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be rezoned to a conditional district because it should not be industrial.”

Shane Benedict, a resident of Lakemont Estates and a founder of LiquidLogic Kayaks also opposed the rezoning application.

“We came here because of the Green River,” he said. “Our kayak factory should not be right next to a neighborhood and Mr. Shipman’s asphalt plant shouldn’t be built right next to hundreds of people’s homes.”

“This process has gotten way too emotional and a lot of doom and gloom” has been presented, Blake said. “There’s just too much hyperbole and as I said it’s gotten way too emotional. Mr. Shipman has a grading permit on file. He has every right to grade his property. He does not have a permit to build an asphalt plant and he is not building one. Please do not confuse the two. .... The smell — talking to people that are in the business, paving contractors and what we’ve heard from experts — I just don’t think the smell is going to be a big deal.” Stormwater will also be contained. “They have the retention ponds and that stuff will be monitored. Unless they’re building massive tall things, I just don’t think you’re going to see them. In my mind, it’s an industrial-commercial five-lane highway.”

Although no date been set, commissioners could take up the application as early as a May 3 meeting. Gulden promised that he and his client will present an even more comprehensive case before the Board of Commissioners.

“We’ll have the plant operator, we’ll have a toxicologist, air modeling,” he said.

Shipman and his attorney said they will proceed to a presentation of the rezoning request before the Board of Commissioners.

“They’re not pro-business,” Shipman said of the planning advisers after the vote. “They can say they are all they want but they’re not.”