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Zoning board hears four more hours of testimony on storage facility

The Henderson County Zoning Board of Adjustment on Wednesday heard a second night of testimony on a rezoning request to allow a self-storage development on Crab Creek Road before continuing the hearing for a second time.

When Board Chair Ron Kauffman gaveled the proceedings to a close at 8:04 p.m., the hearing had consumed 8½ hours over two days, starting with a 4½-hour meeting two weeks ago. During that span of time, attorneys for the applicant and opponents have sparred over whether the development would harm the community by causing traffic problems, erosion, noise and light pollution, residential real estate depreciation and loss of pastoral mountain views. The hearing will resume at a date and time to be determined.

Applicant Matthew Cooke is seeking a special-use permit to allow the development, which is a permitted use under certain conditions in an R2R residential zone, the current land-use designation for the land. Cooke’s site plan shows the buildout in four phases of 39,000, 51,000, 24,000 and 10,000 square feet — covering roughly three of the 9½ acres— plus an office and a gated entrance on Crab Creek Road east of Camp Blue Star and west of Evans Road. Cooke opened Apple Country Storage at 3414 Chimney Rock in 2008 and has expanded twice.

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. Both sides have presented expert witnesses on traffic, erosion and real estate valuation, arguing opposite sides of whether the development would harm the community and neighboring

On Wednesday, Brian Gulden, Cooke's attorney, called a traffic engineer who countered testimony from Rick Hall, the opponents' traffic analyst. David Hyder, engineering director with Waynesville-based J.M. Teague traffic engineers testified that the entrance to the storage unit facility would not pose a hazard because there are sufficient sight lines in either direction to enter or exit. Sight lines of 861 and 852 feet are "longer than necessary," he said, giving drivers time "to see something in the road, recognize that it is a hazard, apply the brakes and come to a complete stop."

Hyder also testified that the 95-foot roadway between Crab Creek Road and the storage facility gate would prevent backups onto the highway in all but the rarest cases.  "I believe there is sufficient stacking to be safely off Crab Creek Road," he said. The faciilty also has ample room for fire trucks to reach any fire, lay out fire hoses and stage emergency equipment.

Kyle Winters, an MAI-certified real estate appraiser with Charlotte-based Integra Realty Resources, testified for the applicant that self-storage facilities in the Asheville metro area had not led to a depreciation of residential property values.

"There was no correlation between distance from the self-storage facility and the price of the homes," he said, decribing one example of several that all showed no depreciation attributable to a self-storage facility. His study of four storage facilities showed "there was absolutely no correlation or measurable impact" on residential home values near a self-storage facility.

In cross-examination, John Noor, an attorney for the opponents, asked Winters had he looked at the effect of "stigma" on home values. Winters said he did not and added that since his analysis showed storage facilities had no effect on home sales then stigma would not be a factor.

Dr. Barrett Kays, a licensed soil scientist and landscape architect, testified for the opponents that stormwater runoff from the "high-density" project would violate state water quality standards.

Cooke's site plan, he said, showed that 80 percent of the land would be covered by impervious surfaces, either pavement or buildings, a percentage "comparable to a major shopping center." That makes the development "quite different from the surrounding area," Kays said, supporting Noor's point that the development would not be in harmony with the surrounding land use. The stormwater system feeds into the Mud Creek stream buffer, in violation, he said, of state water quality regulations. The stormwater system would result in "high density discharge of stormwater into the creek" that could damage water quality.

"Fecal coliform and sediment are the two most common types of water pollution we have in the country," Kays said, and it's possible the storage facility could generate both either through its septic system or stormwater runoff.

On cross examination, Gulden pointed out that a building next door, a home that stood previously on the subject property previously and many other homes all were on approved septic systems. And, Gulden added, Kays had failed to recognize that nearby subdivisions were also "high density."

Asheville Fire Capt. Angela Bell, a firefighter for 17 years, testified for the opponents about the labor and equipment required to fight a fire at the storage units. The county's rural fire departments would need to use four to six fire trucks to respond, she said.  Because there's no nearby fire hydrant, firefighters would need to use a water shuttle to fight the fire. Volunteer firefighters would reach the scene in their own vehicles, fire trucks would be stacked up and hose lines would be laid everywhere. "It will be a madhouse," she said. A quickly spreading fire could send embers airborn onto nearby property, setting vegetation and trees on fire, said Bell, who lives two miles away on Berea Church Road.

On cross examination, Gulden pointed out that the county's Technical Review Committee, which includes the county fire marshal, had evaluated the development application and found no problems with emergency coverage.