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Commissioners push asphalt plant decision to June 1

Henderson County commissioners on Monday delayed a decision on a rezoning request to allow an asphalt plant in East Flat Rock, saying they needed more time to review information presented in a public hearing. The board voted 4-1 to postpone a vote until June 1.

The board's action came after a public hearing on a rezoning request to allow an asphalt plant in East Flat Rock in a meeting that drew about 190 homeowners and others to Thomas Auditorium at Blue Ridge Community College and lasted 2½ hours.

When Commissioner Michael Edney suggested delaying the vote until the board's June 6 meeting, Commissioner Rebecca McCall objected, saying that was too long. Edney then agreed to June 1. His motion passed with Daniel Andreotta, David Hill and chairman Bill Lapsley voting yes and McCall voting no.

Southeastern Asphalt filed an application for a conditional use permit on 6½ acres of a 12-acre site at the northwestern corner of Spartanburg Highway and the U.S. 25 Connector. The rezoning fight dates back a year, to when Southeastern owner Jeff Shipman first filed the permit request. After the Planning Board last August recommended that the Board of Commissioners deny the rezoning, Shipman withdrew the request. He refiled the request in March and the Planning Board a month ago again recommended that commissioners reject the conditional use permit.

Asheville attorney Brian Gulden, who represented Southeastern, called on experts to testify about water quality and air quality, land values and other factors. An environmental quality compliance director with the manufacturer of the plant equipment defended the cleanliness of the plants made by her company, Astec Industries. Astec operates plants in many communities, she said, "because we build environmentally friendly equipment." Astec uses proven "clean fuel burner technology" and Shipman has agreed to additional equipment to capture pollutants and mitigate odors and noise buffering equipment.

Anna Franklin, a senior environmental engineer with Bunnell Lammons Engineering, said a computer model showed that arsenic, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde and nickel emissions would be below "ambient acceptable levels" set by government regulations.

Lynn Carmichael, an appraiser, presented her findings on whether an asphalt plant would have an "injurious impact" on neighboring residential property values. She studied home sales in the area around five different asphalt plants and five control groups in a half-mile, one-mile and five-mile radius. "Basically, I conclude that there was only one of the five of the groups that I examined met all the criteria" for an injurious impact, she said. Her study of two asphalt plants in Henderson County did not show lower values close to the plant, she said. "I therefore conclude that the asphalt plant does not have an injurious impact on residential property values," she said.

A goal of the county's 2004 long-range plan, Gulden said, was to set aside industrial sites in order to advance economic development.

"Is this the right place for an asphalt plant? In my opinion it is," Shipman said. The plant will help the 15 employees of his company. "We have offered all reports to anyone that was interested and no one asked for them ... despite the fact that it showed no injurious impact. My belief is that there is not a better location in Henderson County for this project."

Attorney John Noor, representing asphalt plant opponents, urged commissioners not to base their decision on "whether this is a good idea or a bad idea."

"Based on your planning document, is this the place where we want to put an industrial use?" he said. In the county land-use plan, an asphalt plant is categorized along with a few other disruptive land uses. "There's a reason for that. These kinds of uses have an impact on the surrounding property. Most folks don't want to live next to a landfill, most folks don't want to live next to a hazardous waste facilty, most folks don't want to live next to an asphalt plant."

Noor presented an appraiser's report on residential real estate that contradicted Southeastern's appraiser, showing an asphalt plant driving down home values. He urged commissioners to err on the side of the homeowners whose single most valuable asset is at risk. "Once the asphalt plant comes in, you can't unring that bell from a zoning standpoint," he said.

Chris Collins, an urban planner, said the rezoning is "not supported by the Henderson County comprehensive plan and it is not supported by the East Flat Rock plan."

Nancy Wilson, owner of Camp Wayfarer, said summer camps have a $75 million a year economic impact. She said she called nine summer camps closest to the proposed asphalt site and learned that those camps provide 1,010 jobs. Once parents hear of the asphalt plant, "they will choose to go to other regions for camp," she said.

Shane Bennedict, a homeowner in Lakemont Estates and cofounder of Liquid Logic Kayaks, submitted a list of 50 businesses that oppose the rezoning.

"Approving a conditonal rezoning will encourage other companies to do the same," he said.

Shannon Nicholson said misinformation had implied that asphalt plant opponents were environmental activists from outside the county. To the contrary, the opponents are local homeowners. He asked people to stand who thought the plant would impact them. Most of the people in attendance did.

"These are the people that this decision will affect," he said. "There are $39 million worth of property within half a mile of this proposed site. When you look at the tax impact of that, that's a salary of someone who works for the county. Over 200 homes, hundreds of people, maybe thousands will be affected ... This is a big, big decision that will affect the county for a long time to come."