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Laurel Park approves zoning to allow more commercial use

Greg Plumb, a Hawthorn Hills subdivision resident, speaks against zoning changes in Laurel Park during a public hearing on Thursday. Greg Plumb, a Hawthorn Hills subdivision resident, speaks against zoning changes in Laurel Park during a public hearing on Thursday.

LAUREL PARK — The Laurel Park Town Council on Thursday voted unanimously to rezone several areas in the town to allow for a mix of residential and commercial use.

The vote came after a public hearing where council members heard for more than two hours from residents living in the area of the proposed zoning changes. All but one speaker urged the council to reconsider making the changes, saying mixed use zoning would destroy the residential nature of their properties.
Laurel Park held Thursday’s meeting outside the town hall under a large tent. A crowd of about 45 people attended and applauded as residents spoke against the zoning changes.
Many speakers lived in the Hawthorn Hills subdivision along U.S. 64 where Laurel Park staff recommended a zoning designation of Mountainside Mixed Use.
Bob Buchanan, who lives in Hawthorn Hills, said he moved to the area two years ago from Florida because he wanted to live in the country.
“I don’t want to see more commercial traffic near our entrance,” he said. “I don’t want to lose that country atmosphere.”
Hawthorn Hills resident Greg Plumb brought with him a large map of the community and questioned why the council wanted to zone the area for mixed use as a transition between residential and non-residential properties when property in all directions is residential.
“That is the polar opposite of the definition of transitional,” he said.
Laura Bannister, the homeowners’ association president at the Hunter’s Crossing subdivision along U.S. 64, said she was concerned that increased traffic along the route would lead to more accidents. She said she was also concerned that the zoning change will allow developers of the nearby Arcadia Views project to “build almost anything.”
Council members later in the meeting assured people concerned about what the zoning change would mean to Arcadia Views. Developers must remain under constraints on commercial development that were put in place before the zoning change and would need to return to the council and be approved for any changes to their current plan, they said.
Other residents living in the area of Davis Circle and Pisgah Drive said they were also concerned about the zoning changes creating more commercial development in their communities. Some of those residents live in the town’s extra territorial jurisdiction, which allows the town to apply its zoning rules to areas that lie outside the town limits.
In emailed comments, one man living on Davis Circle said the zoning change will cause his home to be surrounded by businesses.
“It is a classic power grab,” he said. “Put yourself in the place of residents in your community.”
Before the vote, Council member Paul Hansen told the crowd the council was trying to think about what the town needs in the future as it grows and adjusts to land use changes including the Ecusta Trail that will pass through the area.
“The Ecusta Trail is great,” he said. “However, it’s gonna bring change.”
Mayor Carey O’Cain also addressed concerns about commercial development around homes in the Davis Circle area. He said the MM district allows the town to put more restrictions on developers, including putting buffers between the developments and residential properties.
Council member Kristin Dunn said zoning that allows for a mix of residential and commercial development will support residents who want to live in communities that are walkable.
“We are giving folks something they want,” she said.
After voting on the zoning changes, the council voted to impose a moratorium on buildings higher than 40 feet for 60 days.
The public hearing and vote on zoning changes in Laurel Park came after the town at an earlier meeting adopted a Unified Development Ordinance that created seven zoning districts. The districts include R-30 (low-density residential), R-20 (moderate density residential), OI (office institutional), MM (mountainside mixed-use), TC (town center), I-I (Industrial), PD (planned development).
Most of the public hearing concerned changing areas from previous zoning designations to MM and TC areas.
The MM district was created as a transitional area between residential and non-residential areas to permit a mix of various housing types, commercial businesses and institutional uses in a pedestrian-oriented setting “with a sense of community and place along the Ecusta Trail and U.S. Hwy 64 (Brevard Road). Staff recommends the parcels along White Pine Drive and Brevard Road corridor and Valley Hill Department as MM,” according to an agenda summary of the proposed changes.
The Ecusta trail is a19.4-mile trail planned for an abandoned rail bed linking Hendersonville and Brevard. Construction on the first phase in Henderson is expected to begin next year.
The TC district was created to foster the establishment of a high-quality, mixed-use town center, according to the summary. The area is planned to balance functionality between pedestrian and vehicular uses.
The zoning changes proposed and that council adopted were consistent with the Unified Development Ordinance and the town’s comprehensive land use plan, according to the summary.