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City Council OKs 460 dwellings on farmland overlooking Jackson Park

The Hendersonville City Council Thursday night authorized a high-density development on the former Bo Thomas farm overlooking Jackson Park, turning back concerns of neighbors who urged the council to reject the development for traffic, environmental and scale reasons.

The developer sought the rezoning to build 300 apartments and 160 single-family homes on 162 acres between Forest Lawn Memorial Park and Jackson Park. The project had drawn opposition from neighboring homeowners during previous public hearings and residents on Thursday night implored the council to reject the rezoning. In a 3-2 vote, the council granted the request. Those who voted in favor said the need for housing and the developer's willingness to address concerns neighbors raised overrode concerns about traffic. Mayor Barbara Volk and council members Jennifer Hensley and Lyndsey Simpson voted in favor of the development; Jerry Smith and Debbie Roundtree cast no votes.

Project highlights included:

  • The developer plans to expand the right-of-way on Wilmont Drive from 30 to 70 feet.
  • The development would be made up of 13 apartment buildings of three stories and three-two split — 270 two-bedroom units and 30 three-bedroom units — and would include a clubhouse and pool.
  • The project would address the shortage of both owner-occupied homes and rental housing, a staff report said.
  • "This site has been identified and valued for its natural resources for some time," the staff report said.
  •  The developer agreed to sell six lots to Housing Assistance Corp. for $40,000 per lot for affordable homes.

  • Neighbors have raised concerns about flooding, traffic congestion, incompatibility with the current use and loss of farmland.

  • Internally, the plan includes sidewalks on both sides of all streets.

Endorsed by the Planning Board in a 4-2 vote, the Tracy Grove Road project was proposed by Mike Washburn.

"We're aware there is a severe shortage of housing in the area," he told the council. "The proximity to the town, it's amazing. It's a quick commute and that makes it very attractive as well as it's going to be walkable and bicyclable" via Jackson Park. "As far as affordability, we are working with Housing Assistance so they'll be able to build some affordable housing in there as well." The developer has been working with Conserving Carolina to preserve a large green space adjacent to Jackson Park.

About a mile east of downtown, the 62-acre site is mostly pasture with a large pond plus wetlands that the developer plans to preserve, the project's civil engineer said. The project's landscape architect said the plan would preserve 86 percent of the total acreage and save 62 percent of the trees and net 190 trees based on the number that will be cut down and the number of trees planted to replace them. A traffic impact study projected the development would generate 3,200 vehicle trips a day. The developer would have two access points — Wilmont Drive and a second drive near Forest Lawn.

Tom Fanslow, land protection director for Carolina Conservancy, said the conservancy has been interested for years in preserving the area around the "Four Seasons swamp" and the Bat Fork corridor. Fanslow said it's up to the council to decide whether the upland should be developed. "But this is the first time we've had the opportunity to restore and enhance the flood plain community," he said. Washburn offered to partner with Conserving Carolina on preservation of the land; he even suggested at first donating all the floodplain land but dropped that because he then could not have gotten approval for the density he wanted on the upland property. If it wins a grant it's applied for, Conserving Carolina would remove non-native species and plant native species, Fanslow said.

"We don't know if the upland development is a good idea or a bad idea but we do know that what we've been discussing with regard to the floodplain is a very good idea and will be very good for the property downstream," he said.

Brian Gulden, an Asheville attorney who specializes in land-use law, said under state law the council must look at whether the development is consistent with the city's comprehensive land-use plan and whether it's "reasonable." The city's comp plan, he said, encourages "a wide range of housing" types and price points, promotes safe, walkable neighborhoods and encourages environmental protection and green space. "What we're planning on doing here is bringing (housing) all back into to town" instead of expanding into suburbs, he said. The developer, he noted, has committed to paying for a right turn lane on Dana Road at Tracy Grove Road and one at the development entrance.

Opponents pointed out that the council has just approved 263 units at the Waterleaf apartments on South Allen Road, adding to traffic from BRCC, and so far this year has authorized hundreds more units, one homeowner said. "I don't think current residents are being looked after," she said, "and I don't know how much you want to saturate this area."

Julie Conner, of 106 Boyd Hill Drive, asked about street lights. "Are we going to know if it's night or day if it's really bright, along with Jackson Park" lights, which she said "are really bright."

Stephanie Sawyer, of 223 Wilmont Drive, said a large multifamily development is not compatible with the 1950s single-family homes on Wilmont. She described the woods on the Washburn property as a white squirrel sanctuary. "How are we protecting them if we're going to build on them," she said. "We cannot do that."

"We have about 35 cars a day that go through because it's only 20 residences," she said. Adding "at least 900 to a thousand" trips a day is not realistic, she added. She implored the council to read a letter from a paralyzed neighbor who uses an electric scooter to walk his dog. "How is he going to do that with this influx of traffic?" she asked. "How's anybody gonna live or walk? ... I am totally against this project. I don't think it's in the right place. I think it's the wrong place. I think this land needs to be preserved. I just think that Bo Thomas's legacy is very important."

Council member Jerry Smith said the development is neither consistent with the city's comp plan nor reasonable.

"This is not development," he said. "This is overdevelopment. ... It is unreasonable what they have proposed to do. It cannot be safely supported by the existing transportation network. There have been umpteen projects approved by this council so with regard to the housing problem, we have more than adequately addressed the housing problem."

Debbie Roundtree also explained her vote against the rezoning.

"A white squirrel habitat, a continued flood plain, traffic patterns," she said. "Yes, we need housing but we need affordable housing and I know the history of this farm and have worked this farm for Mr. Bo Thomas, a former senator of North Carolina," who she said "did a lot for Hendersonville and Henderson County."

Hensley and Simpson spoke in favor of the rezoning request. Hensley pointed out that there is a great need for housing in all price ranges and Simpson said the developer had created the best possible plan for the property and had made concessions to accommodate the traffic.