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Planning Board boots subdivision decision after throng turns out to oppose it

Martha Rollefson speaks against plans for a major subdivision while David O’Connor holds a photograph of the property at the Etowah Valley golf community. Martha Rollefson speaks against plans for a major subdivision while David O’Connor holds a photograph of the property at the Etowah Valley golf community.

Henderson County’s Planning Board on Thursday night voted to postpone making a decision on whether to allow a major subdivision in Etowah after a five-hour meeting where nearly 60 people spoke against the project.

The board voted six to three during the meeting at Blue Ridge Community College in favor of a motion by member Trey Ford to table the issue until the board’s meeting in October. Members Bruce Hatfield, Hunter Marks and Rick Livingston voted against the motion.
The board plans to again take up plans for the subdivision at the Etowah Valley golf community on October 19 or possibly later in the month depending on the availability of space to accommodate the large number of people expected to attend.
The vote to postpone making a decision on the project came after Board Chairman Steve Dozier said he was uncomfortable with the number of changes the developers of the project have made to their plans in recent days. Others on the board said they wanted to wait until traffic studies and soil studies at the site are complete.
The development company that first sought permission to build a 343-unit RV park at the Etowah Valley golf community eventually withdrew the application and instead proposed to build 242 single-family homes on the property.
Shortly after plans for the 242 single-family homes were forwarded to the Planning Board from the county’s Technical Review Committee last week, developers revised those plans to call for 200 homes that could possibly include duplex housing on the property.
Dozier said he was concerned with the developers making “so many changes so quickly” when he called on the board to postpone making a decision.
Hatfield said he intended to vote against the project because he was concerned with traffic, a sewage treatment facility proposed for the development and how the development would impact a nearby creek.
Others on the board said they wanted more information before voting.
Tribute Investment & Development Inc. had proposed the RV park, a new clubhouse and a wastewater treatment plant on 174 acres. The application for the subdivision seeks county approval for 2.7 homes per acre on 84 acres. The subdivision plan requires a review by county planners and approval by the county Planning Board. Because the proposal does not need a rezoning, it does not go before the Board of Commissioners.
The meeting Thursday began in the community college’s Thomas Auditorium at 4 p.m. and ended around 9 p.m. with the board’s vote to table the issue.
In addition to the more than 60 neighbors who spoke against the proposal, the meeting Thursday included comments from engineers representing the developer and attorneys for the developer and the neighbors. The managing partner of the golf course spoke in favor of the project.
Many people who spoke against plans for the subdivision said they were concerned with how the project would increase traffic congestion, how many more people would be living in the development if it includes duplex housing, how much open space will be included in the development and how the development might damage the environment, including a nearby creek. Others said they were concerned with plans for the wastewater treatment plant.
Mike Wiemers, who owns the Salty Landing Restaurant near the proposed subdivision, said he feared having the wastewater treatment plant so close to his restaurant, which includes outdoor dining.
“My goal is to make sure I’m not handing out gas masks with menus,” he said.
Neighbors Martha Rollefson and David O’Connor stood together before the board. Rollefson told the board the subdivision would destroy the environment in the area while O’Connor held a photograph attached to cardboard showing the property.
“Some people think you can destroy woods, plants and trees and all will be well. They are mistaken,” she said. “Losing this vital habitat would contribute to the death of nature by a thousand cuts.”
Janice Arden, who lives off Brickyard Road near the proposed subdivision, said people who do not live at the golf course are also concerned about the project and how quickly it will introduce change to the community. The large subdivision that could include 400 households if the duplexes are built would create an unmanageable rate of growth, she said.
“I find it impossible to believe putting 400 households on 83 acres and it be anything like orderly,” she said.
Tim Rice, the managing partner for Etowah Valley, said the decision making the course available for development came after the course lost money for more than 20 years.
“It compels our group to recover personal investments,” he said.
Asheville attorney Tikkun Gottschalk, who represents a group of neighbors in the community, told the board unanswered questions concerning plans for the development should delay the board’s approval.
“It’s very unclear what they are trying to build. It’s not clear at all,” he said.
But attorney Craig Justus, who represents the developers of the project and has an office in Henderson County, told the board they had a duty to follow the county’s zoning law when considering the project.
The law, he said, requires that the board not consider issues outside of the master plan for the development when making its decision because the proposed subdivision meets the requirements of the county’s zoning law.
“For this piece of property, the rules are set up by your elected officials,” he said. “We have law in our society for good reason. Rules serve a purpose.”
Livingston pushed back on Justus’s comments saying his job on the board was “more than just checking boxes.”
He said he was aware of what he should and should not consider when making decisions.
“I’m sorry. As a responsible board member whether right, wrong, legal or illegal, I will consider all these issues when making my decision,” Livingston said, adding that he tries to keep the best interest of Henderson County at the forefront.
No further public comment will be allowed at the meeting planned for October but the board is expected to continue discussing the issue before voting.